“This take-down has to come as a huge relief to law-abiding citizens who lived near this illegal activity. Those who worked at and frequented these gambling dens are accused of drug use, illegal gambling and weapon offenses.” – Alan Barcelona, CSLEA president
SAN DIEGO – A federal grand jury has indicted 47 people who are allegedly associated with illegal gambling establishments that are closely tied to gangs, drugs and violence in San Diego neighborhoods.
Following a two-year investigation, on April 14, 2021, more than 450 local, state and federal law enforcement officers made 35 arrests and searched 24 locations, mostly illegal gambling dens in East San Diego neighborhoods.
- 44 firearms,
- more than 12 pounds of methamphetamine,
- $263,000 in cash,
- and 640 gambling machines.
Of the 35 people arrested, 15 are part of the indicted group, and the others were arrests for state offenses. Three of the indicted individuals were already in custody prior to the takedown.
The defendants are charged with conspiracy, operating illegal gambling businesses, maintaining drug involved premises, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, distribution of methamphetamine, importation of methamphetamine, felon in possession of firearm and felon in possession of ammunition. The gambling dens continued to operate during the pandemic.
Those arrested include the owners of the businesses and employees who acted as doormen, security and bankers; those who audited the machines; and those who collected the money. Also arrested were alleged drug dealers who operated within the dens.
The indictments allege that illegal gambling dens were often located inside small businesses or inside houses, apartments, and outbuildings in residential neighborhoods predominantly in City Heights, in the East San Diego area. According to court records, it is common for gambling den owners to pay rent in cash to the owners of these properties and, in some cases, a percentage of the profits to cast a blind eye to all the foot traffic.
These establishments are equipped with electronic gambling machines which are programmed with several games of chance such as poker, blackjack, keno, jacks or better, and slot games. Most locations of these establishments are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The indictments allege that many of these gambling locations were taking in thousands of dollars a day.
The main draw to illegal gambling establishments is methamphetamine use and sales, according to the indictments. It’s rare to have a patron who does not use or sell methamphetamine inside these locations. The people selling drugs inside may be employees or independent drug dealers. According to court records, it is common for employees to hand out small amounts of methamphetamine and “comp” customers to keep them playing and coming back for more.
Members on the Violent Crimes Task Force
San Diego Police Department
San Diego Sheriff’s Department
Internal Revenue Service
Homeland Security Investigations
National City Police Department
Chula Vista Police Department
Federal Bureau of Prisons
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
San Diego County Probation
San Diego County District Attorney’s Office
Additional partner agencies participating in the take-down.
Drug Enforcement Administration
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
U.S. Marshals Service
California Bureau of Gambling Control
San Diego City Attorney’s Office