Federal agents storm Westminster restaurants and seize illegal gambling equipment

Fourteen people were arrested early Wednesday morning, Feb. 21, during the execution of a search warrant at a suspected illegal gambling operation inside a restaurant in Westminster, police said.

About 1:30 a.m., investigators conducted a search of the Cafe Picasso Restaurant in the 15600 block of Brookhurst Street. Investigators found at least two firearms and multiple illegal gambling machines, which were all seized, Westminster police Cmdr. Cameron Knauerhaze said.

The 14 arrested men and women were accused of being operators or patrons.

Establishments that double as illegal gambling halls are not new to Westminster. Over the years, cafes, restaurants and other businesses have been subject to raids during which investigators have seen drug use, prostitution and gang activity.

A large, rectangular machine could be seen sitting on the floor inside the restaurant, which serves Vietnamese food, when authorities emptied the business. It’s a type of popular game often seen in other illicit gambling sites typically frequented by Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans.

The gamblers sit around the machine and slap a button trying to “hit” animated characters for points. The slapping motion in the game is the reason many of these illegal sites are referred to as slaphouses.

Such establishments, also in homes, usually offer other types of games such as electronic versions of blackjack and poker.

Knauerhaze said these types of activities attract a criminal element and affect those trying to conduct business legally in the city.

“We hope the message is clear – these operations will not be tolerated,” he said.