LANCASTER – Nearly three dozen officers raided several businesses in Lancaster Thursday as part of a citywide operation targeting illegal gambling.
The operation, a joint effort between the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station, the city’s Public Safety Office and the State’s Bureau of Labor Standards, was the first operation in L.A. County that targeted online gambling, according to Lancaster Community Relation’s deputy Michael Rust.
Complaints from residents and neighboring businesses led authorities to local Internet cafés suspected of operating as online casinos, Rust said.
“They’re all the same complaints, that loved ones are going in there and gambling away rent money,’” Rust said, adding that some patrons were using EBT cards to gamble.
There were also complaints of public intoxication, loitering of gang members, fighting in public, and other quality of life issues and public nuisances, according to Miguel T. Ruiz of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station. After a two-month investigation, authorities simultaneously served search warrants at five separate internet café locations in Lancaster Thursday afternoon.
The locations had business licenses to operate as internet cafes; however, casino style computer “slot machine” games of chance were promoted in the establishments, Ruiz said.
At the “I Spot”, located at 1015 West Avenue I, officers surprised nearly 30 patrons.
“Roulette, slot machines, poker, keno, whatever games you want to play, just like Vegas… they’re all placing bets and they’re winning money,” Rust said.
The patrons were briefly detained as authorities ran their names for warrants.
Some said they were not aware that their actions were illegal.
“We were just like innocent bystanders coming to gamble,” said 19-year-old Andrew Martinez. “It’s not like they had a sign that said that this is illegal gambling, it’s like we didn’t even know.”
At least one customer at the “I Spot” was arrested after deputies discovered there was a $50,000 narcotics warrant for the woman’s arrest, Rust said.
Thursday’s citywide operation also targeted establishments at 1336 West Avenue J; 2751 West Avenue L, Suite A; 616 East Avenue K, units 103 and 105; and 2330 Mall Loop Road #111.
Authorities seized 150 computers, documents of gambling debts owed to customers, and approximately $5,000 in cash. Three people were cited for the misdemeanor violation of conducting gambling operations. A parolee-at-large was also arrested, Ruiz said.
All targeted businesses were shut down by the city of Lancaster, officials said. The investigation is ongoing.
Editor’s Note: Story updated with information from deputy Miguel T. Ruiz of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station.