Police brass know the illegal business is there. It's been in the 1400 block of West Roache Street for years. Politicians know it's there, too. Ministers in the area know about Gypsy's, and so do the people who live in the neighborhood.
But with the exception of the occasional raid when traffic or some kind of other trouble connected to the simple wood-frame house gets out of hand, the drawings continue unabated.
The presence of Gypsy's and about a half-dozen other pea-shake houses in Indianapolis illustrates the deep schism that exists about the gambling operations among police, public officials and community members.
Some view pea-shake operations as entities that provide jobs and don't hurt anyone.
They also donate money to youth programs, soup kitchens and other community programs. The people who gamble at the houses see them as beacons of hope because for as little as a dime, they could win a few hundred bucks.
This argument that the operators of the pea shake houses are do-gooders who donate money is no different than the mafia's long-time practice of making generous contributions to churches and community groups where they operate to buy off public support. Completely missing from O'Shaughnessy's story is the availability of a regulated charitable gambling under existing Indiana law to help do good for the community. They won't get a charitable gaming license to carry on their activities because that isn't the kind of operation they are running. And that should be clear for all to see.
O'Shaughnessy throws this bone to the opponents of pea shake houses describing the operations at their worst:
They are illegal. They attract drug dealers and thieves selling stolen goods. Losing gambling slips are often dropped onto the ground and blow into people's yards.
The operations frequently create traffic problems. Families sometimes suffer, too, because the bread-winner has spent the paycheck at a pea-shake house.
If O'Shaughnessy had spoken to some of the folks who live near the pea shake house at 34th and Central as I have, he would have learned a lot more. Folks up there have to be careful about speaking out. A neighbor who voiced his opposition a few years ago was drug from his car and shot in the arm as a warning to keep his mouth shut according to one concerned neighbor to whom I spoke.
City officials are also proving how easy it is to lie. "There's never been any kind of tacit authorization of pea shakes or any illegal gambling," said Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell. "If you do something illegal, we'll enforce the law." "Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Michael Spears said the idea that ticket houses, another name for pea-shake houses, or other illegal operations are protected is 'just folklore.'" "I told them there are no locations or individuals that are exempt from enforcement action," Spears said. "The officers have my complete support. I commend them for their actions." The story does note that the original police report showing Sen. Glenn Howard (D-Indianapolis) had protested a raid on the Roache Street pea shake house earlier this month was later altered by police to remove his name. "When word of the report alteration became public, old questions emerged about whether there is an unspoken rule in the Police Department to ignore the pea-shake houses," O'Shaughnessy writes.
If you read what former mayoral Louis Mahern says later in the article, he basically confirms Campbell and Spears are not telling the truth. "Some elected officials continue to protect them because they put some money back into the community," said Louis Mahern, a Democrat who ran for mayor in 1991 and now heads the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Board. "The feeling is they don't hurt anyone.'' "Mahern said he visited several pea-shake houses when he ran for mayor." "He said legalizing the games would be better than pretending they don't exist." There's a reason Mahern visited those pea shake house as a mayoral candidate. He knew he had to support their operation if he wanted any support from certain African-American leaders in his mayoral bid. He already had his back against the wall because his GOP candidate, Steve Goldsmith, pretty much turned a blind eye to them as the county's prosecutor for 8 years and was winning support from the black community. I credit Mahern for at least being honest about the subject.
Current prosecutor Carl Brizzi says police bring few complaints to his office for prosecution. "Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said the police bring few illegal gambling cases to his office." "Laws are inconsistent, he said, allowing some forms of gambling while outlawing others, such as pea shakes and sports pools." The story doesn't mention it, but Brizzi's office did file various criminal charges against the man operating the Roache street pea shake house.
A couple of weeks ago, WXNT's Abdul Hakim-Shabazz reported the existence of a federal RICO investigation of the illegal pea shake houses. "Sources say the Government has identified nearly a dozen pea shake houses with net profits of more than $29 million, after payouts," he wrote then. "And that is a conservative estimate," he added. "There is also reason for the federal government to believe that in addition to those profits, millions more have been funneled into financing drugs, prostitution and loan sharking." "Money may have also been funneled into financing legitimate businesses in Indianapolis." The Star article references no federal investigation.