Los Angeles county police recently uncovered what they say is an illicit gaming operation in Hacienda Heights, California. The finding led to the arrest of a dozen suspects.
The unlicensed gaming operation was housed in what appeared from the outside to be a vacant store located in a shopping center, according to KABC-TV.
Eleven suspects eventually left the illegal casino after police repeatedly ordered them to come outside. They were charged on varied gambling, weapons, and narcotics charges, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The incident began Wednesday night when a deputy saw a man hand a woman a handgun. As the officer approached and apprehended the man, the woman entered the nearby storefront and locked the door.
Initial officers were reinforced by tactical units and a police helicopter flying above the neighborhood. Police also set off flash bangs to encourage the suspects to come out of the building.
During a later search of the property, police found what they described as an “illegal gambling casino.” Inside, they found a handgun and a sawed-off shotgun, according to the Los Angeles Times. No word yet on whether authorities seized cash or gaming machines from the operation.
It appeared the space held multiple arcade games, KABC reported. Employees working in the shopping center also told the station they had previously noticed suspicious activity in that store. There appeared to be people entering and exiting at night.
Names of the suspects were not released immediately by police. Their cases are likely to be turned over to local courts for prosecution.
The incident could be one of the first times California prosecutors could go after the operators of illegal gaming operations under a new beefed-up law recently approved by the state Assembly and signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.
Stronger Law Could Mean Tougher Response by California Prosecutors
Assembly Bill (AB) 1294 improves the ability of the California Department of Justice and local law enforcement to seize money in the bank accounts of those convicted of illicit gambling operations. It allows authorities to seize other assets from the criminals, too.
The bill updated state Penal Code section 186.2 to expand the definition of “criminal profiteering activity.” It now includes operation of illegal slot machines and gambling devices. Previously, the law only applied to the definition for bookmaking crimes.
In August, Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-32) complained to Casino.org that “illegal gambling sites are opening up faster than law enforcement can shut them down. The reality is illegal gambling machines are so profitable that operators simply treat closures as a small cost of doing business and will simply relocate elsewhere.”
As of last year, most of those arrested for operating illegal gambling activities in California were only charged with misdemeanors, too. The operators typically were fined a few thousand dollars.
Other California Gambling Arrests
Last July, the Long Beach, California vice squad broke up a home-based illegal gambling ring. Police seized gaming machines, four guns and $2,000 from that gambling operation. The bust also resulted in three arrests.