Legal

Pennsylvania Raises The Stakes In Illegal Gambling Case


A prominent liquor license attorney in Pittsburgh has been charged over an illegal gambling investigation that also ensnared a state representative.

The basics of the PA illegal gambling case

The office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer announced earlier this month that attorney Louis F. Caputo has been accused of criminal solicitation, criminal conspiracy and gambling devices.

In December 2012, law enforcement seized more than $1 million in cash and more than 330 video gambling machines at about 70 locations (bars, restaurants, bowling alleys) in the McKeesport area. Authorities said that illegal lotteries and sports betting were also uncovered in the investigation.

The following year, 16 individuals were charged by the attorney general’s office.

One of those men was Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, a former McKeesport councilman. He worked as the head of the illegal gambling operation. He pleaded guilty to a few counts, one of which was bookmaking. Melocchi received 10 years probation in June 2015.

The other 15 either received probation or got hit with a fine.

State lawmaker also accused of wrongdoing

In March 2016, State Rep. Marc Gergely, who resided in a Pittsburgh-area district, was also charged in connection with the illegal enterprise. Gergely allegedly used his political position to convince local businesses to install the illegal machines.

He pleaded not guilty.

Gergely’s trial date has been scheduled for Dec. 5. He has served seven terms in the Pennsylvania House. Thanks to the allegations, he lost his position as ranking Democrat on the House Labor and Industry Committee.

As for Caputo, a grand jury alleged that he and Gergely were part of Melocchi’s “Super PAC.” Melocchi used both men “as a show of strength in terms of the people with whom he had a connection,” according to Beemer’s office.

Like Gergely, Caputo allegedly helped secure new locations for the video gambling machines. The state also said that Caputo helped “protect” the illegal business.

Caputo was released from custody on a non-monetary bond earlier this month.

Why Pennsylvania protects its gaming industry

McKeesport is about 18 miles from Rivers Casino, which has about 3,000 slot machines. More than $3.1 billion was wagered on those machines in the most recent fiscal year. More than $270 million was won from those wagers.

Legal slot machines in the Keystone State are taxed at a 54-percent rate. That’s the highest rate in the nation.

There were a combined 26,600 slot machines at Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos in September, up from 26,200 a year prior.

Slot revenue of $192.2 million was nearly 2.5 percent more than what was won in September 2015, according to the state Gaming Control Board.

About 18,000 people work at Pennsylvania casinos. The properties generate $3 billion in gaming revenue annually. Pennsylvania casino gambling brings in $1.4 billion in tax revenue.

As part of this year’s gambling expansion discussions — which included the possibility of PA online casinos — lawmakers considered allowing slot machines at airports and off-track-betting parlors in Pennsylvania.

While the House signed off on online gambling and more slot machines, the Senate hasn’t acted.