Gambling Fraud Case Leads Police to Educate Businesses
Tellos and The Patio were cited for having gambling machines in their establishments after fraudulent tickets were passed to Port Washington police, but confusing laws about video gaming machines have led police to better inform businesses.
After an incident of gambling fraud led to four citizen arrests and six citations, the Port Washington Police Department has decided to host an informational session for local business owners explaining laws involving video gaming machines.
The incident not only resulted in theft citations for the four people involved, but Tellos and The Patio also received citations for gambling and possession of gambling devices.
"(The incident) basically did two things, from our perspective," said Port Lt. Eric Leet, who was the first to respond to the call of the fake tickets and also has special training in the gambling laws. "(It gave) proof that they were illegal devices and proof that they were being used for gambling. And now that we know that, we are obligated to enforce it."
Leet arrived at Tellos at 11:10 a.m. July 11, after The Patio owner Alphonse Uselding called to tell police he had caught two women presenting fraudulent tickets to the business.
The women, Uselding said, had first presented two fake tickets to him at The Patio — one for $280 and the second for $310, according to the police report. Uselding paid the first woman $280, but then realized the tickets were fake; he didn't pay out on the second one, and decided to check with local businesses to see whether others had been hit.
The 21-year-old woman and 27-year-old woman, both of Antigo, initially resisted questions about the fraudulent tickets. Once in custody at the Port Washington Police Department, however, they provided details about their scheme.
The women were working with two Antigo men, ages 20 and 29. The 29-year-old man would enter the establishments to play the video gambling games. After getting a ticket print out, he would head back to the car — where they had a computer waiting to make a fake ticket.
After the forged ticket was created, the women would head inside to play the games, have a couple drinks and eventually cash out on their "winnings." They admitted to having done this in other cities, but said Tellos and The Patio were the only two establishments they went to in Port.
Focusing on 'fairness'
State statute defines video gambling machines as illegal, but Leet said recent changes in the law decriminalize their use — and most instances are dealt with on a municipal level.
State statute defines gambling as making or intending to make a bet in a lottery or on a gambling machine. It is illegal for businesses that operate with a Class B liquore license to also have operable gambling machines.
"The penalties for having five or fewer video gambling machines on a Class B premises include seizure of the machines, seizure of money in the machines, and a penalty of $500 per machine per incident," according to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities website. "It is a felony for a Class B establishment to have more than five video gambling machines on premises; it is also a felony for a Class A licensee to have any video gambling machines on premises
The confusing laws have caused frustration and citations elsewhere, such as in Mount Pleasant this spring. To combat the issue, village officials sent letters to business owners explaining the law. Even still, a Mount Pleasant gas station was cited on June 8 for its "backroom" casino.
"Chief (Kevin) Hingiss very much wants us to work with the local businesses, so what we are going to do moving forward is that I’m going to be putting out a letter to all the licensed establishments in the city," Leet said, "... (and) to maximize our fairness to the business owners, we’re going to meet, we’re going to have that discussion," he said.
"We understand that these machines are scattered around the city — what we don’t know is whether or not the business owners are knowingly operating illegal," Leet said. "The statutes aren’t terribly easy to follow."
The businesses' gambling citations cost $208.50 each. The four Antigo residents will pay $429 each for the theft citations.
Uselding had no comment regarding the incident; Tellos owner Angel Tello was not immediately available for comment.