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Israeli national ran illegal slot machine operation in California, feds say

He goes by the name “Dino the Casino,” has a taste for expensive cars and, according to federal authorities, made millions in an illegal gambling scheme that stretched from Bakersfield to Sacramento.

Nive Hagay — an Israeli national who authorities say has been living illegally in Los Angeles — was indicted Thursday on a dozen charges stemming from allegations that he installed dozens of mini slot machines in gas stations and other stores and tried to hide the money they raked in by, among other things, paying cash for a $200,000 sports car. Hagay, 31, also is accused of selling cocaine to an FBI informant.

At an arraignment in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Hagay pleaded not guilty and was detained without bail, attorney Alan Eisner said.

“We intend to vigorously defend against these serious allegations,” Eisner said. 

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The indictment capped an investigation by agents from the FBI and the California Department of Justice that began in early 2015 and was detailed in a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.

Hagay first came under suspicion when a state investigator received a tip about a man known to the caller as Dino the Casino, who allegedly was peddling illegal slot machines in the Central Valley. 

Then in May, the FBI became interested in Hagay when an informant told agents that he had installed one of the gambling machines in a smoke shop in Sacramento, according to the affidavit.

Over the next several months, agents trailed Hagay and secretly recorded his dealings with an undercover informant as they gathered evidence of what they described as a lucrative enterprise.

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Hagay is accused of placing about 50 slot machines in three dozen small businesses in Bakersfield, Sacramento and elsewhere in the region. He enticed store owners into allowing the illicit machines by offering to split the profits with them, authorities said.

Investigators said the machines generated nearly $2 million in cash per year and violated state laws that severely restrict where slots can be used.

Hagay is accused of laundering the $1 and $5 bills he collected from the machines on weekly trips from his home in Los Angeles through clothing companies in L.A. He also allegedly paid $202,000 in cash to purchase a 2014 Audi R8 in an attempt to conceal profits, authorities said. Along with the Audi, investigators detailed several other expensive cars that Hagay bought, including a $164,000 Mercedes.

In the course of the investigation, Hagay also sold an ounce of cocaine to the FBI informant while the informant was recording the transaction and bragged that he had connections to members of a Mexican drug cartel who could supply more, according to the affidavit.

While investigating Hagay, authorities found he had a past conviction for possessing an illegal slot machine in Visalia, the affadavit said. He was also placed on probation following a conviction in a road rage incident in which he kicked and punched another car. Hagay also was subject to an outstanding warrant for being in the country illegally, authorities said.  

If convicted, he faces up to 55 years in prison and hefty fines. 

joel.rubin@latimes.com

Follow @joelrubin on Twitter

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