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House loses big time

Authorities bust illegal downtown gambling ring

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House loses big time

Manteca detective Bill Walmer carries the last of the confiscated computers from an illegal gambling center that was being operated as a copy and print facility off the parking lot in the 100 block...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED February 21, 2013 1:36 a.m.

An illegal casino in the heart of downtown Manteca went bust Wednesday.

Law enforcement raided a storefront masquerading as a legitimate business center in the 100 block of North Maple Avenue several doors down from the post office.

Police reported finding a dozen adults involved in slot machine-style gambling on more than 30 computers when they served a search warrant about 11:30 a.m. to a lone clerk working in the Delta Business Center.  The operation was located adjacent to a municipal parking lot to the rear of businesses facing the street. 

Officers did not detain anyone for long in the center that’s billed as a legitimate business to make copies, send fax messages, and computer access for legal purposes.  They did, however, record the identities of everyone in the building and made one arrest of a customer who had a warrant for drugs. 

The raid conducted by Manteca Police with state Department of Justice Bureau of Gambling Control officers was dubbed “Operation Jackpot.”

Manteca Police Sgt. Jody Estarziau confirmed that undercover officers and detectives had been investigating the operation since October.  The business center opened its doors about a year ago and shortly afterward mailed out yellow fliers to the general population.

The raid also involved members of Manteca’s Street Crimes Unit and MPD detectives along with officers from the Tracy Police Department and Manteca IT technicians.  As officers were interviewing those inside the building and carrying out computers and other evidence to waiting trucks, nearly a dozen patrons walked up to the door and asked officers if the business was open.  A couple of the patrons wanting to get through the door specifically asked officers who had won the jackpot, police said.

The initial information that spurred the investigation last fall came through the online “Tip Government Outreach” on the City of Manteca’s website designed to receive citizen complaints about crime and other problems.

Earlier in the morning Wednesday, officers served a search warrant on the home of the suspected operator of the gambling center.  He reportedly lives in Discovery Bay but they weren’t able to make contact with him as of late Wednesday afternoon.  They did recover an undisclosed amount of cash at the home.  He reportedly works for a computer firm. 

After the officers locked the door of the business and transported the computers to the police department, patrons continued to walk up to the front door.  Shaking the door and peering through the glass windows they couldn’t believe the business was closed – a business that reportedly had been in operation 24/7.

One retired woman said she only frequented the operation to use the computers for her Delta College classes.  She was trying to contact an instructor to let him know she was going to be late Wednesday afternoon – she had to catch a bus. 

The computers could be used for normal computer work or for gambling, she confirmed.  It was obvious that it had to be illegal, she added, and remembered continually warning the people on the other computers.  The desktops at the Manteca Library were always taken, she added, and the ones at the business center became an easy alternative.

Identification cards were issued to the patrons with the imprinting “Please Return this Card” along with a serial number.  One customer rode up and locked her bike to a tree only to find the center had been closed.  She said ID cards were purchased for $2 and the center offered a $5 credit for people to gamble for their sweepstakes.

A senior citizen later rode his bike up to the gambling operation to find it was closed after chaining his bicycle to a city sign post.  He said it was a fun place to stop after work never winning or losing more than $2 at the most.

The players were told they should cash out before they went over $599 in winnings or they would have to file 1099 forms with the government, he noted.

Three casually dressed men drove up to the business front and appeared surprised that the center was locked.  They told of other like operations in Pleasanton and in Modesto, adding that they were going up to the Jackson Rancheria to do some gambling and have dinner.

Downtown Yosemite Avenue business owners came out the back doors of their stores after the police activity waned and lauded the police action, saying the gambling had attracted the wrong type of people into the parking lot between stores.  They said that the beer bottles and trash left by the business patrons had plagued the area for too long and that it preyed on the poorest of the poor.

One merchant said he had pulled a man off of a woman who was being pummeled in the face as she lay defenseless on the asphalt.  Several noted that they had been upset by the drug sales and apparent prostitution they had witnessed.

Signs on the front door of the business center directed patrons where they could park their bicycles, stressing they should be kept off the grass and away from the pathways.

The owners of the building recalled the business center owner had sent out fliers to the community last year shortly after they had received numerous complaints about the questionable activity.  Those fliers advertised “Sweepstakes” that were being offered at their rental site, but noted nothing about gambling.   

One owner said every effort had been made to evict their tenants, but were told it would not be possible because they would have to prove an illegal operation was taking place at the site.  A beauty salon located just next door as well as business operators along Yosemite Avenue also voiced their displeasure about the clientele being drawn to the area.

As of Wednesday night the Manteca Police Department reported they were still trying to make contact with the operator of the illegal computer gambling operation.  Other similar computer gambling operations have recently been shut down by officers in Stockton and Sacramento area communities.

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