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Commentaryby Joan Jacobson2:53 pmFeb 9, 20090

The gambling story the Sun isn't writing about

Baltimore video gambling machine mogul “Johnny Z” is under investigation by the IRS and the feds

by Joan Jacobson 

Amidst all the recent news about gambling ventures’ tepid interest in opening slots casinos in Maryland, one big gambling story has gone virtually unreported by Baltimore’s biggest media outlets, including The Baltimore Sun. Only The Towson Times and The Daily Record showed any interest in reporting that one of Baltimore’s biggest owners of video gambling machines is the subject of a wide-spread investigation by the IRS and the Baltimore County police department’s vice squad. 

 A ‘complaint for forfeiture’ filed in U.S. District Court against Nick’s Amusement, owned by John Zorzit (better known in Baltimore’s underworld as Johnny Z) tells a fascinating story of the millions of dollars earned in illegal, unreported income and laundered through multiple bank accounts and real estate investments. Though Zorzit has not been charged with any crime, the federal complaint, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Kay and Special IRS agent Bryant Jackson, is the first in decades to document this lucrative business that bureaucrats and elected officials have ignored in Baltimore City and County.

This is a subject that greatly interests me because I authored a study for the Abell Foundation in 2006 that found 3,500 illegal gambling machines in the city and county (many owned by convicted felons) with underreported income of more than $63 million annually.

Now comes the IRS and the Baltimore County police to finally track down one of the metropolitan area’s biggest video gambling enterprises. While county vice detectives watched bartenders pay out gamblers their winnings – proving the illegal payments – the IRS estimates that Zorzit’s company earned more than $18 million over a four year period from 109 video gambling machines he has licensed with Baltimore County (yes, the government actually licenses these machines under the ridiculous pretext that they are legal games – even though The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled them illegal and every vice detective I know agrees).

If this isn’t big enough news, check out the latest dispatch by Bryan P. Sears, the Towson Times reporter covering the story. He notes that the veteran ‘route man’ collecting the cash from the machines for Johnny Z is Robert Olszewski, brother of Baltimore County councilman Johnny Olszewski (aka Johnny O) from the county’s east side.

Why this is not news for The Sun is easily explained by the dearth of editors and reporters left to cover any stories of substance. They can barely cover the top of the news – though they’ve done a great job covering the slots bidding story this past week. What once would have been a big ‘scandal’ story in town, now goes easily missed in today’s alarmingly fast-disappearing news business. 

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