FBI seizes 640 machines, charges 47 in raids on local gambling dens

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SAN DIEGO — The FBI and local law enforcement are charging 47 people in connection with a network of illegal gambling dens in San Diego that was “closely tied to gangs, drugs and violence.”

The wide-reaching investigation was revealed Wednesday as authorities raided two-dozen locations in the City Heights area, most of them alleged illegal gambling operations. The raids turned up 35 arrests, guns, drugs and dozens of gaming machines, which could be seen getting loaded on to trucks at several of the locations Wednesday morning.

The FBI says their two-year investigation targeting illegal gambling in San Diego has resulted in 47 indictments by a federal grand jury and the seizure of:

  • 640 gambling machines
  • 44 firearms
  • More than 12 pounds of meth
  • $263,000 in cash

Agents seized 240 of the gaming machines in Wednesday’s raid alone, along with a quarter-pound of meth, $200,000 in cash and four of the guns. The morning operation was expansive, with agents swarming businesses, apartment complexes and homes dotting 41st and 45th streets as well as other parts of City Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Officials said the gambling dens had continued operating despite the pandemic.

“We have taken down the illegal gambling dens, and we have lifted a weight off our neighborhoods,” Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement. “Law-abiding citizens who live in these neighborhoods will be safer without these magnets for crime in their midst.”

The FBI says many of the dens operated 24 hours a day, taking in thousands of dollars and offering machines that could play poker, blackjack, keno and slot games. Drugs were an integral part of the business model.

“It’s rare to have a patron who does not use or sell methamphetamine inside these locations,” officials said. “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.”

Authorities also described a system in which the owners and employees of legitimate businesses “acted as doormen, security and bankers” for the gambling dens. In other cases, residential building owners chose not to interfere with the actions of their tenants, often for profit, the FBI said.

“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,” the agency release explained.

Formal charges against the nearly four-dozen people tied up in the investigation include: 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.

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