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Kadner: Club president faces felony for video gambling machines

A view Village Sportsmens Club Tuesday Jan. 15 2013 5201 W. 115th St. Alsip. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

A view of Village Sportsmens Club Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, at 5201 W. 115th St. in Alsip. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:29AM



Cook County Judge Peter A. Felice laughed when he heard a grand jury had indicted Charles Koehne on felony charges of illegal possession of a gambling device.

“They convened a grand jury on this?” Felice said to Koehne’s defense attorney in apparent disbelief.

“Yes, that’s what they’re doing now,” defense lawyer Robert Olson replied.

Koehne looked baffled and worried in the Bridgeview courtroom on Jan. 4.

Koehne, 70, is the president of the Village Sportsmens Club of Alsip, now headquartered at 5201 W. 115th St., which has been in existence since 1938.

Koehne, of Peotone, said his father was a founding member of the club and he’s been a member since he was a child.

“We were set up,” he said.

He didn’t deny the club had four unlicensed video gambling devices that Illinois State Police confiscated from the club’s basement in early December.

But he said they hadn’t been used since the state passed its video gambling law, which outlawed unlicensed machines — even if they were used only for amusement purposes.

“Someone called here asking about buying the machines and said they wanted to see if they still worked, so we plugged them in and the next thing we knew we were being raided,” Koehne said.

A spokesman for the Illinois Gaming Board, which is responsible for overseeing the law, said it received an anonymous tip about the devices at the Sportsmens Club.

Full membership to the club costs $150 a year, but for $3 a person can come in and drink at the clubhouse bar, Koehne told me.

The club owns 380 acres in downstate Carthage, near the Mississippi River, for hunting and fishing, he said.

Koehne said he spent a night in jail after his arrest on Dec. 6.

“It was miserable,” he said about his time locked up.

His next court date is Thursday.

Olson, Koehne’s attorney, said he owns a bar and had several video gambling machines there himself.

“I took them home because I knew it was illegal to have them in the bar after the law took effect,” he said.

I called the Illinois Gaming Board to see if it was launching a crackdown on the unlicensed gambling devices.

“We enforce the law whenever we learn of illegal gaming machines,” board spokesman Gene O’Shea said.“Down near Peoria we confiscated 1,100 machines at one location.”

While that warehouse raid occurred nearly two months before Koehne’s arrest at the Sportsmens Club, Peoria County prosecutors have yet to file charges in that case.

A spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez refused to comment when I asked if Alvarez was making illegal gambling a priority based on the grand jury hearing the charges against Koehne.

But now that legal video gambling is up and running at bars, restaurants and veterans’ halls throughout the state, officials are discovering just how big a business it is.

According to statistics posted on the gaming board website, $153,095 in cash was wagered on five licensed machines in Murphy’s Law tavern in Oak Lawn in December alone. The machines paid out $99,357, resulting in a net income (or gambling loss) of $53,738.

Of that amount, the state received $13,435 and Oak Lawn $2,687.

Sixty-nine percent of the revenue generated is split between the operator of the vending machines and the business, 25 percent goes to the state, 5 percent to local government and less than 1 percent to the company that operates the computer network that keeps tabs on all the gambling.

But the amount actually played on the machines at Murphy’s Law was $734,810, about five times the cash put into them.

According to O’Shea, the difference is that the machines pay out credits, and instead of taking the money as a payout the gamblers use the credits to just keep on playing.

At Cindy’s Pub in Oak Forest, $200,138 was wagered on five machines in December, with a net income of $59,837, resulting in $14,949 for the state and $2,992 for the city.

The fact that so much cash is pouring into all these video games indicates to me that millions of dollars were being illegally wagered in Illinois before the games became legal and that organized crime was the primary beneficiary.

I would wager that billions more are spent across this country on illegal sports gambling each year, and once again the vast majority of that money is lining the pockets of mobsters, who finance their operations with that revenue.

I say make it all legal, tax it, put people to work in legitimate jobs, fund government programs and take the financial windfall away from the criminals.

That’s just me.

O’Shea said the Illinois Gaming Board has a hotline for anyone who wants to call in a tip about a business that still has the old video gambling devices intended for “amusement.”

That number is (855) 494-0237.

By the way, the Village Sportsmens Club has applied for a video gambling license.

“That license application is still pending,” O’Shea said.



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