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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bust closes three casinos

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Three clandestine, 24-hour-a-day gambling houses where players allegedly wagered tens of thousands of dollars a day behind fake storefronts were simultaneously raided by Honolulu police Tuesday night in an operation that officials called the biggest gambling bust in at least five years.

Establishments raided

Sheridan Billiards, 1320 Rycroft St. (five people arrested)

655 Ke'eaumoku St., (five people arrested)

Asian Imports, 1232 Young St. (three arrested)

Police said the game rooms are connected to other gambling operations run by organized-crime figures.

"The casinos that we hit are hurting for the money we took," said Maj. Kevin Lima, head of HPD's patrol District 1. "That's the price of doing business as far as we're concerned. Sometimes we get lucky; sometimes they get lucky."

Police arrested 13 people and seized $97,932 during the 7 p.m. raids, executed by HPD Crime Reduction Unit officers from three districts along with officers from HPD's Narcotics/Vice division. They also seized $5,660 worth of electronic gaming machines and surveillance equipment.

"As long as people are willing to go play, people will be willing to set up game rooms," said Lima.

Police say they have raided 10 to 15 gambling houses so far this year. Investigators believe there are at least 10 major gambling houses still operating in Honolulu. HPD's gambling detail has fewer than 10 officers working cases across the island. In 2003, the detail made 58 arrests, executed 40 search warrants, and seized $22,000 in cash.

The unit not only deals with illegal casinos, but also other forms of gambling. Hawai'i and Utah are among states that prohibit gambling, such as lottery and casino games, although social gambling is permitted here.

Police said each room was set up like a real, 24-hour casino and many players had piles of $100 chips stacked in front of them at the time of the raid. Each of the 13 people arrested (10 men and three women), was charged with misdemeanors — promoting gambling in the second-degree. Police said they were all Honolulu residents who ranged in age from 26 to 69.

Police said notices of forfeiture were sent to property owners who leased out the three business locations. Each notice warned the owner that if illegal activity continued, their property could be seized.

Tuesday's operation was the culmination of a six-month undercover operation, police said.

During the investigation, undercover police officers infiltrated the gaming houses, sometimes as players, carefully documenting their experiences. Police said all three gambling operations, where baccarat and video slots were played, were being run independently of one another, but police are still investigating whether some of the game rooms may be owned by the same person.

In each instance, the property housing the game rooms did not appear to contain any legitimate business, police said. Each room employed a private security force, with guards and bouncers.

"It doesn't take a genius to figure out that these aren't the businesses they say they are but owners keep leasing property to them," said HPD Lt. Walter Ozeki.

Tuesday's raids once again cast light on the city's illegal gaming subculture. Illegal gambling in Hawai'i is a familiar pastime, deeply rooted in the culture of the Islands.

During the plantation days, the workers, the majority of whom were male bachelors, gambled heavily in the dormitories on pay day. Many rode the train into Chinatown where illegal gambling dens actively catered to them.

In January, a dispute between rival factions that provide security for these illegal games ended in gunfire, leaving two men dead at the Pali Municipal Golf Course.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.