Bally’s Evansville table-games supervisor among two charged with operating illegal poker room

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on: March 17, 2023 5:39 am EDT

Indiana authorities say a table games supervisor at Bally’s Evansville casino is one of two men charged on Wednesday with the long-term operation of an illegal poker room in the southern Indiana city.

Edward A. Hill, 53, of Evansville, faces three felony charges in connection with the room’s operation, as does a second man, Mark Edge, 41, of nearby Owensboro, Kentucky.

Hill, the room’s owner, was arrested on Wednesday by Evansville police after previously being interviewed by agents of the Indiana Gaming Commission, which first began investigating the room in January of 2022.

Edge, who allegedly worked as the room’s day-to-day operations manager in exchange for a share of the room’s proceeds, had yet to be detained as of Thursday night. Edge also served as the room’s primary dealer.

Both men face charges of corrupt business influence, professional gambling, and promoting professional gambling. One of the three charges carries a maximum penalty of one to six years in prison plus a fine of up to $10,000, while the other two can result in sentences between six months and two and a half years.

Room in operation since July 2021

The illicit poker operation first went live in July 2021, according to an affidavit filed in relation to the investigation compiled by the IGC.

Investigators said operators ran the game in a building zoned for business on Evansville’s northeast side in the Spring Park neighborhood. The room was unofficially known as Ed’s Poker Club and used poker chips imprinted with that title.

The games ran Monday through Friday in the evenings and some afternoons. The room typically offered just a couple of tables of action in hold’em or Omaha formats. The room’s existence came to the IGC’s attention after the agency was tipped by a “Confidential Source,” who continued to play in the games as an undercover informer, including wearing a recording device.

Armed with the testimony, recorded evidence of the confidential source, and subpoenaed business and banking records connected to the room’s operation, agents raided the room on April 5, 2022.

During the raid, agents found two tables in operation, including 16 players who were interviewed and released. Edge and a second dealer, named as Tarkus Dillard, were also present. Dillard was described as a state-licensed table games dealer who was also employed at Bally’s Evansville, though Dillard had no management role and was not charged in connection with the room’s operation.

During the raid, agents confiscated gaming equipment, records, and $9,240 in cash. A near-simultaneous search of Hill’s residence resulted in the seizure of an additional $13,182 in cash, $5,182 of which was the current amount of the room’s bad-beat jackpot.

Hill cooperated with investigation

The affidavit noted that Hill cooperated with investigators while being interviewed about the room’s operation.

Hill voluntarily surrendered his phone’s contents to authorities which included a massive 170,000 text messages sent or received by Hill since March 2020.

Investigators likely learned the identity of every player ever invited to the invitation-only games. Hill declared that about 100 different players were on his invite list and that he personally ran the room and often played in the games when not working at his regular casino job.

According to Hill, he made about $200 a night running the room, though it was sometimes hard to say for sure, as on a bad night shortly before the April 2022 raid, he’d lost $5,000 in the games. Edge received 25% of the room’s proceeds plus tips from the games, which were raked at $7 per pot or more.

Authorities learned that Hill had also been involved in at least three other underground poker operations in the Evansville area. Hill’s room was spun off from one of those operations, which according to investigators remains unidentified. The exact timeline of Hill’s involvement wasn’t specified, though the popularity of the underground games that Hill was involved with increased after Bally’s Evansville shuttered its poker room due to the COVID-19 onset in early 2020.

The poker room at the former Tropicana Evansville was sparsely attended, according to local reports, and the room has never resumed operations.

Poker room disguised from building’s landlord

One of the intriguing sidebars to the raid and subsequent charges is that Hill worked closely with a local real estate agent in obtaining the space for and setting up the room in a vacant business suite adjacent to a take-out pizza chain outlet and a couple of other businesses.

The affidavit details how Hill and a local real estate agent, Troy Tornatta, brokered the rental agreement with the owner of the Bradford Park mini-strip complex where Ed’s Poker Room opened shop.

The IGC report states, “Hill informed Tornatta that, ‘I have a table top that makes the table look like a conference table.’ Tornatta informed Hill, ‘Someone from [owner’s] office will be with you. They are at the front of the complex.’ Hill inquired, ‘What do I need to tell them?’ Tornata advised, ‘Tell them u are opening a business office to test the market.'”

The IGC affidavit continued: “‘Training people for jobs in the community. Essentially a temp agency.’ Tornatta later advised in a text message that ‘temp agency model is hard to beat.'” Though Tornatta faces no charges, the IGC investigator who compiled the affidavit then wrote that he believed “the text messages between Hill and Tornatta show the intent of Hill and Tornatta to disguise the illegal poker operation from the landlord of the Bradford Park Complex.”

Featured image source generated via DALL-e