Sheriff’s deputies arrested three after a recent special operation in Castaic targeted an “Internet Cafe” officials suspect was being used as an illegal gambling operation.
The nondescript location at the Castaic strip mall with Internet Cafe stenciled on the entrance, and surveillance cameras positioned over the backdoor, had two dozen computers that serviced 10-15 clients who played the casino-style slot machines daily, according to Sgt. Brian Shreves of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s Career Offenders, Robbery, Burglary Assault team, or COBRA, team.
“It had stickers like Instagram and Facebook stickers on the front window, as if it was advertising that you could come in and get access to free WiFi,” Shreves said. “But the front door was a glass door painted solid black and you couldn’t see through it, and the front windows had heavy black drapes so you couldn’t see into it.”
The suspected illegal casino had snacks and drinks available, and a cashier ready to cash people out based on their credits, Shreves added.
“And the front door always remained locked,” he said. “We received some tips and then we did those kind of detective things that we can’t talk about in the paper.”
Deputies with the COBRA and Crime Impact Team, or CIT, raided the storefront on the 31000 block of Castaic Road Saturday evening, ultimately arresting three individuals: Oksana Pierce, 45, who was suspected of operating an illegal gambling facility; Oscar Infante, 36, on suspicion of illegal gambling; and Marvin Kagaoan, 35, for outstanding warrants.
“They had two dozen computers ready,” Shreves said, describing the setup, “with rules on the wall and snacks and stuff. They probably had a pretty steady flow of clientele.”
In one corner of the room was what Shreves referred to as “the fish game,” in which players use a combination of joysticks and a “fire” button to shoot fish on an arcade screen. The credits inside the exploded video game fish then go into the players’ account which he or she can then take back to the cashier for real-life money.
“If they loaded this particular game into a Chuck E’ Cheese and it gave out tickets to trade in for toys it wouldn’t be illegal,” said Shreves. “When they outfit them with a money machine and it pays out in cash, then it makes it illegal gambling.”
“There wasn’t anyone playing at the fish game, but there were two people playing the online slot machine-type game,” said Shreves on Wednesday, adding that there were no traditional blackjack or poker tables.
Shreves said that the spot was known particularly around truckers who spread the news about its secret location through word of mouth.
“I heard of this one a couple months ago, but the investigation came to kind of a dead end. And then I heard about it again and we started going on this one again,” said Shreves. “A lot of times they’re called tap tap casinos, or pop-up casinos.”
Shreves said these types of establishments are more common in the Antelope Valley and San Fernando Valley, and this was the first he had seen in the Santa Clarita Valley since he joined the station in 2014.
“We have information that they had money picked up on a regular basis that is running these things as an organized crime ring,” said Shreves. “There wasn’t a substantial amount of money when we got there, but it was their opening.”