CHAMPAIGN — Champaign police hit the jackpot, so to speak, when they busted a gambling operation in west Champaign last week.
What they found was a pay-to-play poker game featuring refreshments and televisions going on inside a building in the 2700 block of Clark Road, just east of Duncan Road.
They also found — and seized — $3,000 cash, gaming tables, cards, poker chips, ledgers and two televisions.
Ten men and three women from three counties, ranging in age from 27 to 73, were given notices to appear in Champaign County Circuit Court in February to face a misdemeanor charge of gambling.
One of the 13, Scott Petticrew, 35, of Danville, was also cited for keeping a gambling establishment, also a misdemeanor.
"He had the key and said he was running the place," said Champaign police Lt. Michael Paulus, the commander of the city's southwest district where the gaming operation was discovered.
Paulus said that about four months ago, a citizen complained about the operation, so police began gathering information.
"We wanted to know how long it had been going on and how often was the gaming happening. We developed intelligence that told us there was a fairly regular schedule of events," he said.
Officers learned that there was usually a game every Wednesday night; some weeks featured games on a second weeknight.
Waiting until after the holidays, Paulus said they obtained a search warrant Tuesday and, on Wednesday, a group of patrol officers conducted what he described as a "low-key" raid.
When no one answered the knock on the door about 7:30 p.m., officers tried the door handle and found it unlocked.
"They were open for business. People were sitting around at the tables. There were only 13 people there," he said, adding that police had information that as many as 25 are often present.
Having information that the games usually start around 6:30 or 7 p.m. and run until 3 or 4 a.m., officers opted to go around 7:30 p.m. while the number of gamblers was manageable.
"We patted everybody down. All the currency was seized. Some people didn't have any money. Maybe they weren't winners that night. Some had quite a bit of money on them," Paulus said.
The $3,000 cash "was secreted away in different locations," he said, explaining that Petticrew had money on him and another wad of cash was found stuffed inside a machine designed to clear the room of cigarette smoke.
Paulus said there was no cash on the playing tables, just lots of chips and cards.
"There were things mounted on the wall that showed running totals. We got some ledgers. There were a couple of TVs," he said, adding that a basketball game was playing on one and an awards show on the other. There was also food and drink but no open alcohol on the tables, although alcohol was present. "They were planning on playing a long time."
Paulus said the patrons were a "little shocked" by the police raid but said everyone remained calm and cooperative. A few grumbled about the officers having better things to do with their time.
"Like I told the people there, I don't go out looking for this. People complained. This was a coordinated, calculated setup. It was advertised by word of mouth and on Facebook," he said.
Paulus declined to say who registered the complaint about the gambling operation, but near the unit where the gambling was going on are a youth center and fitness, welding and lawn care businesses, just to name a few.
"The number of people, some of the clientele coming around — this activity was not what this person wanted to see going on," Paulus said of the citizen who contacted police.
One of the men given a notice to appear has a pending felony case in Champaign County for armed violence, aggravated unlawful use of weapons, and possession of controlled substance. Another was also cited for having cannabis in his car, which a drug-sniffing dog alerted police to.
Paulus said that a couple of years ago, the department broke up a similar gaming operation in west Champaign that they learned of after a wife complained of her husband gambling away his paycheck.
"We know there are collateral things that happen with gambling and some can be rather serious. This shouldn't be happening. There's legal gambling in Illinois. These things are not legal," he said, adding that police are aware of four or five other games in town and are continuing to investigate those as well.
Paulus said some of the patrons talked to police but Petticrew was not one of them.
"We didn't get a whole lot of information. Some people did confirm what we knew. Other people said it was their first time," he said.
Three of the 13 were from Champaign. The others listed hometowns of Rantoul, Urbana, Mahomet, Arcola, Monticello, Armstrong, Oakwood, Georgetown, Danville and Hoopeston.