Officers seize gambling machines during the operation in City Heights. Courtesy OnScene.TV

A series of law enforcement raids were initiated throughout San Diego Wednesday as a result of indictments charging 47 people with having ties to illegal gambling establishments where it was common for employees to hand out small amounts of methamphetamine and “comp” customers to entice them to keep playing.

The early morning operation resulted in 35 arrests and involved searches of two dozen locations, most of which were illegal gambling dens in East San Diego neighborhoods, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said “numerous crimes have been linked to the illegal gambling operations,” which were often located inside small businesses or homes in residential neighborhoods, primarily City Heights.

Many of the establishments operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and housed electronic gambling machines programmed with games like poker, blackjack, keno, jacks or better and slot games. While the gambling operations took in thousands of dollars per day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges their main draw was methamphetamine use and sales.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner said the “gambling dens were not only host to illegal gambling, but a hub for a variety of other criminal activity to include drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms.”

Authorities seized 44 firearms, more than 12 pounds of methamphetamine, $263,000 in cash and 640 gambling machines during the raids.

Those arrested include the owners of the illegal gambling businesses, alleged drug dealers operating within the dens and employees who worked as doormen, security guards and bankers, people who audit the machines, and those who collect money, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Of those arrested, 15 were among those charged in the recently unsealed indictment, while others were arrested for state offenses. Three of the indicted individuals were in custody prior to the raids.

Charges in the indictment include conspiracy, operating illegal gambling businesses, maintaining drug involved premises, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, distribution of methamphetamine, importation of methamphetamine, being a felon in possession of firearm and being a felon in possession of ammunition.

Updated at 4:14 p.m. April 14, 2021

–City News Service

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