Moose Lodge Investigated Over Gambling

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura County district attorney's office is investigating an illegal gambling operation at the Simi Valley Moose Lodge that allegedly netted about $900 a week toward the lodge's operating expenses.

Investigators from the district attorney's office and the Simi Valley Police Department seized four gambling machines and financial records at the club during a raid earlier this week, authorities said. This was the third time that the club in the 4800 block of Alamo Street has been raided for gambling activities, authorities said.

After serving a search warrant at the club Tuesday, law enforcement officers confiscated three video gambling machines, which included such games as poker, craps and blackjack, said Deputy Dist. Atty. John L. Geb, who is in charge of the investigation. A "pull-tab" slot machine also was seized, he said.

Geb said his office received a tip about gambling activities at the club about a week ago from an unidentified lodge member.

The informant "was concerned about the adverse effects the gambling was having on the lives and families of club members," Geb said. Some of the members were apparently starting to experience financial troubles stemming from gambling debts incurred at the club, Geb said.

Club officials did not return phone calls Thursday.

No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed in connection with the case, Geb said, adding that it may be a week or more before his office decides what action, if any, to take against the club.

He said investigators are interviewing "a number of key people" at the club to determine who purchased and installed the gambling machines.

"We want to identify who really is responsible," Geb said. "If someone is found guilty of conspiracy to operate a gambling enterprise, they could be charged with a felony and could face up to three years in prison."

The video gambling machines confiscated during Tuesday's raid were discovered inside a locked room next to the bar, Geb said. Customers who wanted to gamble would exchange their club cards at the bar for a special key to the room where the machines were kept.

Customers would then use tokens purchased at the bar--10 tokens for $2.50--to gamble on the machines, Geb said. When they won, the machines would pay them off in tokens.

Winners would exchange the tokens the next day for cash kept in an envelope at the bar, apparently to confuse or throw off authorities, Geb said.

It is estimated that club members gambled about $1,800 a week on the machines, Geb said. He said that about half that amount was used to pay winning gamblers, and the rest went to the lodge's operating funds. Because they were profiting from the operation, the club stands to lose its tax-exempt status, Geb said.

In addition, the club could have its liquor license revoked permanently because of prior violations, said Morris Berniard, an investigator with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control office in Santa Barbara, which oversees Simi Valley. Berniard was present during Tuesday's raid.

In 1983, the lodge received a warning that it could lose its liquor license when authorities discovered a video gambling machine on the premises. The lodge received a warning, in part, because it had a permit to conduct bingo games at the time, Berniard said.

The club's liquor license was suspended for 15 days in 1976 after law enforcement officials discovered similar gambling activities being conducted at the club, Berniard said.

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