The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is once again cracking down on what they said are illegal “gambling houses,” operating under the guise of Internet cafes.
Friday’s raid of five “gambling houses,” part of Operation Reel Stop, was the fourth round of raids since 2013, when the city first started trying to shut down the businesses.
The operation is a joint investigation by JSO, the State Attorney’s Office and the statewide prosecutor.
This is the fourth raid in the city since 2013, after the Allied Veterans of the World scandal that same year.
Police said they’re taking a new approach to shutting these businesses down, by going after landlords who rent the space to operate.
At least one person was arrested following the raids, and more arrests are expected, police said.
“These businesses and the types of businesses that they do, they’re illegal. That’s just plain and simple,” JSO director Tom Hackney said.
Colleen Deann Haley, 48, was charged with a third-degree felony for being an agent or employee of a gambling house. Haley (pictured) was also charged with misdemeanors for manufacturing or possessing a slot machine and possessing lottery devices.
Haley was an employee at the Calypso Sun Cyber Cafe on 103rd Street. According to her arrest report, during the raid Haley was seen by investigators taking customers’ money to play casino-style games and cashing out their winnings.
Her son, who didn’t want to be identified, said his mom was just an employee and doesn’t believe she should take the fall.
A woman who is a friend of the owner of the Calypso Sun, who also didn’t want to be identified, was angry that Haley was arrested and doesn’t think the owners were doing anything illegal.
“[Haley] has a daughter and she has a grandbaby. She needs to be home with her family. She’s never done nothing but support the location and be there when she was needed,” she said. “I was there for a long time just as a friend. My friend was there. I’ve never heard of anything. They couldn’t get them on anything. They never have.”
The five “gambling houses” where search warrants were conducted Friday were:
- Calypso Sun Sweepstakes at 6058 Merrill Road
- Lucky Strike at 10150 Beach Blvd.
- Lucky 7’s Cyber Cafe at 5150 Timuquana Road, Suite 16
- Calypso Sun Cyber Cafe at 7900 103rd St., Suite 21
- Spinners Palace: A Cyber Cafe at 708 Edgewood Ave. N.
Hackney said the raids were the result of lengthy undercover investigations to determine whether gambling was taking places at the businesses, which claim to offer only legal games of chance.
But a former employee of one of the cafes told News4Jax that rules governing such businesses need to be clarified.
“They keep on letting them open and close,” Tim Rose said. “Somebody just needs to take the time to figure this thing out and get it off the books. They continue to let these things open up year and in year out. People come in here and they build a good business in the neighborhood and the next thing you know, the police are coming down here and (shutting) it down.”
Because the businesses continue to pop back up after police shut them down, Hackney said JSO is taking a different approach now and will look at penalizing the landlords who rent to the businesses.
“This is really the third generation of these entities. You see them close and another one pops up. In order to try to combat that sort of whack-a-mole thing that happens with these, we’re beginning to look at and make efforts toward some legal action against the landlords who continually rent and lease to these types of businesses,” Hackney said. “Today is the tip of an iceberg.”
Hackney said investigators seized items in the businesses and shut them down.
Customers said they weren’t surprised by the raids but said the city needs to decide once and for all if the businesses are legal or not. Others said the cafes need to go.
“The people running these places are not doing a good job. They are taking people’s money,” Myron Bolxhan said. “They are scamming. And it ain’t right.”