Attorney General’s Office, State Police announce shutdown of illegal video poker gambling ring

HARRISBURG — State Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the shutdown of an illegal video gambling operation that involved 33 bars and clubs in Allegheny, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties.

During the 11 years it was conducted, the operation generated more than $7 million in illegal profits for its owner, Anthony Zenner, 58, who was arrested Thursday, Shapiro announced in a press release.

Zenner, of Washington, was charged with corrupt organizations, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, and gambling devices, Shapiro said. Zenner is the owner/operator of Zenner Vending, which provided at least 142 illegal gambling machines to bars, clubs and restaurants in southwest Pennsylvania between 2006 and 2017, according to Shapiro.

“Today we’ve ended Tony Zenner’s video gambling operation,” Shapiro said in the press release. “This defendant raked in millions of dollars in illegal proceeds, draining money from Pennsylvanians – and from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — over the last decade. These video poker machines – with the lure of the cash payout – are illegal gambling devices. We’ve taken action with the Pennsylvania State Police to shut his enterprise down.”

The investigation began in January 2016 following a review of gambling device questionnaires, which are completed by the owners of bars and clubs where illegal machines are discovered and used to determine which vendor provided the unlawful machines.

Investigators began undercover surveillance on bars and clubs with illegal gambling machines from Zenner Vending.

As part of Zenner’s video poker machine operation, participating bars and clubs made cash payouts to players who “won” credits on his machines.  The cash payouts, coupled with the poker machines being games of chance, made the operation illegal under Pennsylvania law, according to Shapiro.

All of Zenner’s machines also had “knock off” devices and an internal accounting feature that kept track of each player’s credits earned and winnings. Those added devices made the machines illegal gambling devices per se under state law, Shapiro said.

With assistance of a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury working with the Attorney General’s office, investigators determined Zenner was splitting the profits of his poker machines with venue owners, usually 50/50. Based on reports evaluated by investigators, they estimate that Zenner’s split of the proceeds was approximately $14,470 per week, according to Shapiro.

Last April, agents with the Office of Attorney General and the State Police seized 142 video poker machines, as well as $83,000 in cash from Zenner’s video poker machine warehouse in Washington County and his car.

Investigators also froze over $63,000 in five separate First Niagara/Key Bank accounts controlled by Zenner.

“Thanks to strong law enforcement collaboration with our partners in the Pennsylvania State Police and the effective use of a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, this illegal gambling enterprise is over,” Shapiro said. “We’ll hold the defendant accountable for his crimes – and we will seek restitution as well.”

Zenner was taken into custody Thursday morning and preliminarily arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Robert Redlinger. Bail was set at $30,000, pending a preliminary hearing on August 29.