HPD's gambling sweeps yielded cash, surveillance equipment and gaming machines, but no arrests
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 18, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 3:49 a.m. HST, Sep 18, 2010
Police broke up three gambling dens in Chinatown during the last two weeks, and a top officer credited the public's help for some of that success.
"We actually love it when people give us information," said Maj. Susan Dowsett of the Honolulu Police Department's Narcotics/Vice Division. "That really is helpful."
Lynne Matusow, a longtime Downtown Neighborhood Board member, encouraged residents to report unsavory activity.
"The police can't be everywhere," she said.
On Wednesday night, Chinatown bike patrol officers responded to reports of gunfire and a robbery on the second floor at 162 N. King St. When they got upstairs, they found no evidence of either a robbery or a shooting — but they did find about a dozen illegal video gaming machines.
On Sept. 8, acting on tips from the public, officers with search warrants raided two casino-type gaming dens, one at 1157 Maunakea St. and the other at 111 N. King St.
All three operations were on the upper floors over businesses such as banks, well-known restaurants and a Chinese herbs store.
HPD'S HAULResults of Honolulu police game-room investigations this year:
$105,000 in cash seized
$52,000 in other property seized
24 gaming machines seized
50 people arrested
Source: Honolulu Police Deptartment
PUBLIC'S EYES, EARS CAN HELPReport vice or drug activity via the police narcotics/vice hot line at 529-3101 or at www.honolulupd.org/forms/nvformonline.htm.
Chinatown has historically been known as a gambling haven.
The latest police actions appear to reinforce the notion that gambling remains a thriving activity in the neighborhood. But Dowsett said gambling operations do not appear to be any more or less prevalent than in recent years.
"I wouldn't say there are a lot, but there are probably at least 10 around (in Chinatown)," Dowsett said, noting that the Keeaumoku Street and Sheridan Street areas also are home to multiple gambling establishments.
"Occasional raids and busts are a part of our law enforcement answer to this problem of illegal gambling," she said. But like other vices such as drugs and prostitution, "if there's a demand, someone's going to supply it and you can only hope that the demand will decrease with education and enforcement."
Dowsett said landowners should realize that their properties are put on notice whenever illegal activities are found, and that continuing to allow such activities could lead to forfeiture of properties.
One challenge for police is that the operations are fairly nimble. "We raid one, then they move to a different location and set up shop there. " Dowsett said. "And then we raid that one, and they set up shop at another location. Unfortunately, that's generally how it works."
What law enforcement officers are seeing less of in Chinatown are the sports bookmaking operations of years past. The Internet has taken much of that business. In addition, bookies now tend to operate out of their homes since there is no need for a centralized gathering place in a familiar neighborhood as is the case with video gaming or casino gambling operations, Dowsett said.
After the discovery of the video gambling hall Wednesday, vice officers were called in to haul away eight video machines, $11,150 in cash and electronic surveillance equipment, she said.
At the two planned raids on the casino rooms the previous week, vice officers netted about $32,000 in cash, as well as about $9,000 in baccarat tables, surveillance equipment and other property.
No arrests were made in connection with the raids, Dowsett said.
Across the island, the department has made 50 arrests related to gambling hall investigations this year. Police have seized 24 gaming machines, $105,000 cash and $52,000 in other equipment and property, Dowsett said.
Chinatown leaders say they applaud any attempts by HPD to reduce gambling and other vice in the area.
Paul Min, owner of the retail produce You Market at Kekaulike Mall for the past 13 years, said he sees evidence of a link between bad economic times and gambling.
"When the economy gets bad, gambling becomes more worse," said Min, treasurer of the nonprofit Friends of Chinatown, established to support efforts to clean up the neighborhood. "People try to make money some other way."
But that's not the only problem, he said. "When there's gambling, there's also drugs around."
Matusow of the neighborhood board said citizens haven't been complaining about gambling dens in the area so much as they have drug-related activity.
Johnny Ng, president of Friends of Chinatown, said many in his group take part in HPD's community policing teams and support other law enforcement efforts to clean up the area.
"Nobody wants to go to a dirty, filthy Chinatown, or anywhere," said Ng, who has no business interest there but has been going to shop there with his family since he was a child 40 years ago.
Ng strongly backs Dowsett's call for community involvement.
"We all have to take responsibility for it," Ng said. "We can't expect to have a nice Chinatown every time we go if we don't all help to clean it up."