It seems like only yesterday that the City Attorney's office announced it would be closing down illegal gambling cafés in the Excelsior. The sweepstakes cafés, which have operated under a legal loophole in California state law, were accused of drawing unsavory elements to the neighborhood. But with those cafes now gone, it appears those looking to make a quick buck have simply gone the old-school route of launching illegal gambling clubs.
These "gambling shacks," dilapidated storefronts that stay open well past the last call of 2:00 a.m. and frequently house illegal gambling rings, have not gone unnoticed by police or Excelsior residents.
According to KQED News, one spot in particular — running out of a closed women's clothing shop called "The Pink Spot" — has already been the subject of an ABC investigation and police raid.
After an undercover ABC agent entered the club and confirmed there were unlicensed alcohol sales, he let in the ABC agents and police to execute a warrant. Forty patrons left as the authorities detained and cited the operators.
“Agents at the scene seized five bottles of distilled spirits, over 1,000 containers of beer and over $800 in cash,” ABC spokesman John Carr said. “The bartender later admitted that the club normally stayed open until 6 a.m.”
And as KQED News notes, it seems booze wasn't the only thing fueling the late-night party.
The SFPD arrested a man on narcotics charges who allegedly tried to stash in an ice bucket “eleven packets of cocaine packaged for sale,” according to a police report. “A search of the suspect’s clothing revealed packets of small denominations of currency totaling more than $1,000.”
Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the Excelsior, called a public hearing yesterday to both inform residents of police efforts to shut down the spots and to reassure his constituents that he is paying attention to their complaints. The Examiner reports that Ingleside Police Captain Joseph McFadden attended the hearing, and spoke to his efforts to follow the money behind the operations.
“You’re looking for the bigger kingpins in it, the people that are handling the money,” McFadden said of the illegal operations. “You want to catch the main guys. That’s the toughest part, getting the nexus and the evidence to identify that particular person. They are very intricate in stopping that.”
Madden continued that the police are moving much faster than they used to.
“We are knocking them down sooner rather than later. When I first came in, there were some places that took upwards from four to eight years to close down. We are doing it in a matter of months.”
But moving quickly may not be enough. The high number of empty storefronts plays a significant contributing role in the neighborhood's draw to organizers of late-night gambling joints, and means that operators can move from one location to another.
Again, from KQED News:
This diverse, working-class neighborhood in the southern part of the city includes discount shops, liquor stores, fast-food outlets, and mom-and-pop grocery stores, as well as numerous empty storefronts. [...]
The Excelsior Action Group, a government-funded nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the neighborhood’s commercial corridor, recently performed its quarterly storefront survey and found 38 empty, non-performing or for-sale spaces, up two from the previous survey, on the 1.4-mile stretch of Mission Street it works on.
That one 1.4-mile strip has 38 potential options for would-be illegal gamblers, which means the police have their work cut out for them.
Unless yesterday's hearing leads to major changes in the way these clubs are dealt with, our money is on the gamblers.