By Sarah Naron

Messenger Reporter

PALESTINE – The Palestine Police Department and City of Palestine officials ain’t playin’ around about illegal gaming!

Officers with the Palestine PD conducted raids of three gaming establishments located within the city limits on the morning of Friday, Jan. 12. According to Nate Smith, Communications and Best Practices Officer for the City of Palestine, the locations included Blow Vapor Zone (301 W. Palestine Ave.), Dee’s Business Center (300 W. Palestine Ave.) and J&R Lounge (515 McNeil St.).

“Today, Palestine has made great strides toward stopping illegal gambling in this city,” Mayor Steve Presley said during a press conference. “Due to the great cooperation between our police department and the district attorney’s office, we have taken gambling and taken a big chunk out of that today. Hopefully, we’ll be able to stop it completely in this city.”

Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell expressed pride in the Palestine PD and the efforts they made during the raids.

“Those gaming places have been a blight in our community for some time, and I want the message to be spread that we’re taking it very seriously,” she said. “I’m really proud of the good work that they did, and I think that we’ve made an impression.”

Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey explained that the investigation (nicknamed Operation Game Over) of the locations was carried out by officers throughout the month prior to the raids.

“Over a course of time, they’ve (gaming rooms) really popped up, and we knew it was time to do something,” he said. “We had officers do their investigation. We had detectives in there and we were able to get enough – more than enough – (evidence) to seize the gaming machines this morning.”

According to Chief Harvey, the locations addressed during the raids are the three most active gaming facilities in the city.

Chief Harvey explained that throughout the course of the month, undercover officers with the Palestine PD visited the game rooms and played the games to familiarize themselves with the operations of the establishments.

“It’s about the gambling, but it’s much bigger than that for us,” Chief Harvey explained. “What happens is, there’s a lot of secondary crime that happens because of illegal gambling. That’s really our main concern.”

Chief Harvey briefly described his firsthand experience with robberies and murders which have occurred in gaming establishments.

“I really believe it was just a matter of time before that happened here in our city,” he said. “We were very concerned about that. So, that’s why we did our investigation.”

Chief Harvey also cited the possibility of wider spread crime as a concern leading to the investigation.

“People that go gamble need money,” he pointed out. “They don’t have money, they go and steal (other people’s property) and sell it, and that’s how that circle works.”

Chief Harvey estimated that roughly 150 machines were seized from the three locations, while the amount of cash recovered could range from the tens of thousands up to a total of $100,000.

“We haven’t specifically counted it,” he explained. “But it’s just a lot of money; a lot of cash there.”

While machines and money have been taken into police custody, no arrests have been made.

“We need to evaluate the case. This literally just happened; authors haven’t even had an opportunity to write their reports yet,” Mitchell pointed out. “Once we get that information, we’re going to look at that in connection with what the law says about gaming in our state, and perhaps charges could be forthcoming.”

Chief Harvey echoed the sentiments of Mitchell regarding his pride in the department and the belief that a clear message has been sent to other gaming facilities which may still be operating in the city.

“I want to make sure that those that we didn’t get today understand that they’re next if they don’t stop what they’re doing,” he cautioned. “We will continue to be on the lookout, and we know where the other ones are. So, if you’re listening, you know what to do.”

Sarah Naron may be reached via email at snaron@messenger-news.com.