Fired Worker Says Underground Casino Was Being Run Inside Memphis’ Public Utility Building

Updated: 26/03/2023

Gambling in Tennessee is strictly regulated, but that didn’t stop a group of utility workers from setting up a makeshift casino inside the Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) building.

Pictured is the South Station of Memphis Light, Gas and Water where a former employee alleges that an illegal casino-style gambling operation was being run by one of the utility provider's supervisors. (Photo: MLGW)

A former MLGW employee of 23 years came clean to local news station WREG Channel 3 News, claiming a secret code was needed when knocking on the door to access the part of the building where covert casino gambling, sports betting, and bootlegging was taking place.

Sam Barnett told WREG in Memphis that the underground gambling ring was run by a MLGW supervisor on company grounds and that employees often became indebted to the man. In the report, Barnett claims that the supervisor was charging up to 50 percent interest and said the man made as much as $10,000 on a $20,000 football pool.

“It was like a miniature casino,” Barnett told the station. “He would have his own casino and he would get a cut on everything.”

Barnett said that he brought the issue to the president of MLGW but was ultimately fired a year after blowing the whistle.

A Big “No-No”

Gambling laws in the Volunteer State are some of the most stringent in America. Restrictions on gambling limit Tennesseans to horse race betting, the state lottery, and charity raffles. Daily fantasy sports are also available in Tennessee.

Casino-style gambling is illegal in the state, even in private or social settings. Tennessee state law states that, “a person who commits an offense who knowingly invest in, finances, owns, controls, supervises, manages or participates in a gambling enterprise,” is committing a Class E felony.

According to the WREG news report, MLGW investigated a supervisor named David Suggars after he was alleged to be the ringleader of the quasi-casino but found no evidence to discipline him. The report also states that Suggars admitted to running a football pool, which is illegal under state law.

The news station also investigated MLGW’s inquiry into the matter and found the utility company discovered that employees became aware of hidden cameras that were set up to catch the illegal gambling operation.

Tennessee gamblers looking to scratch the itch must travel out of state to do so. Neighboring states like Missouri and Mississippi offer several options and there are people who want to keep it that way.

A group of pastors and protesters recently spoke out against a $150 million casino proposal in the town of Bristol, which is on the Tennessee-Virginia border, saying the attempt to bring gambling in the town was the work of the devil.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

The report doesn’t indicate that law enforcement has become involved in the MLGW gambling operation, but other underground rings across the country have caught the attention of authorities.

Earlier this year in Pennsylvania, a family was alleged to have placed illegal gambling machines in several pubs and clubs in the state, paying club owners up to $15,000 to host the machines. The operation allegedly went on for three decades and brought millions of dollars to the family.

Robert Biros, the man alleged to be running the operation, said at the time “the whole story hasn’t come out yet.”

Last December, Pennsylvania lawmaker Marc Gergely was sentenced to 18-months house arrest for his involvement in connection to the scheme.

Also earlier this year, seven New York Police Department officers were arrested for allegedly protecting an illegal gambling and prostitution ring that was operating in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens for several years.

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