Police tell last SF gambling cafes to close 

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the Excelsior neighborhood where a number of gambling dens have operated, said the locations have led to an increase in crimes such as vandalism and assaults. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER
  • MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER
  • Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the Excelsior neighborhood where a number of gambling dens have operated, said the locations have led to an increase in crimes such as vandalism and assaults.

It's last call for the Excelsior district gambling dens.

San Francisco police have warned the remaining "sweepstakes cafes" still operating on outer Mission Street that it's time to shut down or be shut down. The businesses resemble Internet cafes, but host slot machine-style gambling on computer terminals.

As many as three such businesses were operating on Mission Street as of late last year. In addition to basic office functions and Internet access, patrons could buy "credits" to play keno or slots on one of the computers. If patrons won more credits, they could cash out their winnings.

Open as late as 4 a.m., the locations attracted what some described as an unsavory element to the neighborhood and led to an increase in crimes such as vandalism and assaults, according to residents and Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the area.

One, a business called NetStop, was shut down Tuesday after it was targeted with a civil complaint filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera in January. It had been open for about 19 months.

Others -- with names such as Cybertime and City Business Center -- stayed open and managed to avoid running afoul of California laws restricting gambling by claiming what they offered was similar to the well-known Monopoly game at McDonald's, a sweepstakes game and not a game of chance.

The City Attorney's Office could not say why the other businesses did not attract its attention.

Other cities, including Hayward and Bakersfield, had tried and failed to ban sweepstakes cafes. However, an appellate court decision issued in Fresno last month found that sweepstakes cafes do in fact host gambling and are illegal.

Armed with the court decision, police from nearby Ingleside station visited the businesses, informing them that it's time to go, Capt. Timothy Falvey told The San Francisco Examiner last week.

"Now we have clear guidance. We can say, 'There's no ambiguity here, and we're going to take enforcement action,'" said Falvey, noting that at least one of the remaining cafes got the message and closed.

The other -- City Business Center, at 4837 Mission St. --received a personal visit from Falvey, who said he delivered a copy of the court ruling.

As of Friday morning, gambling appeared to still be in full swing at the location, which is a four-minute walk from Balboa High School.

About a dozen people sat at computers playing the slot machine games in the small storefront as an employee, in a partition behind glass not unlike that in a check-cashing shop, watched.

An employee at City Business Center would not comment to The Examiner on Friday. A message left on the cellphone of a person identified as the manager was not returned.

City Business Center is registered to Rick Caviglia of Castro Valley, according to records. A message left at his home Friday was not returned.

Sweepstakes cafes had appeared in other cities in California before popping up in San Francisco. Here, they have only opened in the Excelsior district.

Other gambling dens that lack business licenses and host video gambling machines similar to ones seen at legitimate casinos also appear periodically in formerly vacant storefronts in the neighborhood, Falvey said.

After visits from police, the "fly-by-night" operations disappear, Falvey said. However, Avalos noted, sometimes they return.

"It's just a way to make money in a bad neighborhood economy," Avalos said Friday as he stood outside City Business Center. "Despite my efforts, the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development hasn't translated S.F.'s economic boom to benefit the outer neighborhoods."

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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Monday, Jul 25, 2016

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