The business of Video Poker machines is a big money maker for the Philadelphia Mafia according to law enforcement sources. As the racketeering trial of Philly mob boss Joseph Ligambi and six co-defendants continues the jury got a look into the ins and outs of this business and how the mob profits from it. Authorities claim that Ligambi ran a illegal gambling operation which included a network of video poker machines placed through out Philadelphia and Pennsylvania suburbs in social clubs , bars, and restaurants. They also say that co-defendants and fellow mobster Anthony Staino routinely made collections on behalf on Ligambi and the Philly mob.
“Illegal Video Poker Machines removed in Philly”
In September of 2009 dozens of video poker machines were seized at Arbitman’s warehouse in South Philadelphia. The raid was part of an investigation by Attorney Generals Office and Pennsylvania State Police. That evidence was turned over to the feds and then incorporated it into the racketeering conspiracy against Ligambi and others in 2011. Prosecutors plan to bring Curt Arbitman known as a major illegal poker machine distributor in Philadelphia to the stand to testify about his business relationship with Ligambi and co-defendants Joseph Massimino and Anthony Staino.
Jurors got a detailed run down on how the illegal video poker machines business runs and how money is made from it. An expert witness for the prosecution told jurors that customers played the machines in multiple locations for “credits” and were labeled with “for amusement only” tags. But most patrons at these locations know that those credits are to be turned into cash by simply approaching bar tenders or owners. The profits made from these machines were split between the location owners and the vendor which in this case was Ligambi and his Philly mob associates. Machines could be set to pay anywhere from 5 cents to 25 cents per credit.
The amount of money that were generated by these machines is a topic of debate between the prosecution and defense. The defense has argued that these machines are but nickle and dime propositions and scoffed at claims by prosecutors that Ligambi and fellow mobsters were lining their pockets with large profits. But prosecution and law enforcement sources claim that machines placed in prime locations can generate anywhere from $500 to $1000 of profits per week. Prosecutors presented a notebook found in a 2001 raid in which four machines tied to Ligambi were seized indicating payouts at a local bar. The notebook showed that for a period of 12 months the bar had paid 4300 winners a cash total of $176,786. The expert pointed out that this was but a fraction of the poker machines “take” for the year long period proving how profitable these can really be.
Prosecutors claim that Ligambi , Staino , and Massimino formed a company and then forced a rival video poker machine distributor to sell them 34 machines using mob muscle. The defense contends that the sale was a legit business deal and they have a sales agreement to prove it and the machines and stops where they were located was sold to Ligambi and company for $70,000. But prosecutors contend this was extortion as Ligambi forced the rival to sell him the business at a fraction of what it was worth. The prosecution also pointed out the machines were from a company once headed by Anthony “Tony Machines” Milicia. In the 1990’s Milicia was shot and almost killed after he refused to play a street tax to then Philly mafia bosses Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino and Ralph Natale. Natale later admitted to ordering the hit on Milicia and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Milicia was making yearly with his video poker machines that had to be shared with the mob. Prosecutors say that Ligambi and company used this Philly mafia reputation to muscle there way into business.