SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Seven people were arrested on suspicion of running illegal gambling dens at Southern California homes after a years-long investigation uncovered a series of alleged crimes that included drug trafficking, bribery and a shooting, authorities said Wednesday.
The so-called “slaphouses” were operated inside residences in suburban Santa Ana and surrounding areas of Orange County, California Attorney General Rob Bonta's office said in a statement.
Four of the seven defendants were charged with conspiracy and operating an illegal gambling business that generated thousands of dollars in profits on a daily basis, the statement said.
Three separate indictments allege defendants tried to extort small businesses and distributed or possessed methamphetamine and heroin, prosecutors said.
A shooting at one of the illegal gambling dens injured an employee in the neck, officials said.
“The number of illegal gambling dens has exploded during the pandemic, dramatically impacting the quality of life in many Orange County neighborhoods,” U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison said in a statement. “These illicit businesses are a breeding ground for drug trafficking, violence and even police corruption."
One defendant is also charged with bribery for allegedly paying approximately $128,000 to former Santa Ana police Officer Steven Lopez in an effort to protect his illicit casinos from law enforcement intervention. Lopez, who pleaded guilty in December 2020 to accepting the bribes, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 17.
Authorities are searching for two additional suspects.
The investigation included agents from the FBI and the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Gambling Control.
Moving gambling into residential neighborhoods makes it tougher for police to detect since they need a warrant to get in. Neighbors are often afraid to report the homes to police even when they attract drug use and other crime.
Inside the homes, players often try their hand at video poker or blackjack. A gambling video game earned the dens the name “slaphouses” because of the sound of players pounding their hands on the game controls.