WPD arrests 14 in suspected illegal gambling operation at restaurant


Westminster Police detectives and West County SWAT arrested 14 men and women while executing a search warrant Feb. 21 at a local restaurant suspected of hosting illegal gambling.

WPD detectives and members of the SWAT team searched Cafe Picasso Restaurant in Westminster at around 1:30 a.m. after using an explosive breaching technique to get through the fortified metal door safely, according to Commander Cameron Knauerhaze, who oversees the WPD Investigations Bureau.

“We use this resource from the Orange County Sheriff’s Bomb Squad when a location is fortified,” Knauerhaze said of the breaching technique. “This type of entry gives us an advantage and keeps our personnel safe during the execution of a search warrant.”

Detectives seized illegal gambling machines and at least two firearms, according to Knauerhaze. Among the gambling machine games were fishing-type digital arcade games that require catching fish like flounders and clownfish for earnings. Players hit buttons as they play, making a slapping sound – which is why these illegal gambling operations are often called “slaphouses,” said Knauerhaze.

Westminster PD has been involved in an ongoing effort to crack down on these slaphouses, which may also be linked to other criminal activities, including organized crime and narcotics, said Knauerhaze. The agency is working directly with the District Attorney’s Office on these cases. Because of the nature of related criminal activity with these cases, the crimes could potentially be charged as felonies.

“These locations have been popping up from time to time in the Westminster area and detectives have been working several ongoing investigations in an effort to eradicate illegal gambling,” he said. “In this instance, this location was part of an ongoing investigation that we were able to seize several electronic gambling machines and make arrests.

“It attracts criminal activity,” he said. “Typically, these businesses operate in a clandestine manner overnight or in residential areas and we often get tips from the public on locating them.”

After learning about these locations, the WPD will take swift action, said Knauerhaze.

“We’re going to work these investigations swiftly and use resources like SWAT and other agencies for our safety and to send a message that the City of Westminster won’t tolerate this type of activity.”

Anyone with information is urged to call the Detective Bureau at the Westminster Police Department at 714-898-3315, or anonymous tips can be made by calling Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS or by logging on to OCCrimestoppers.org.