A Lose-Lose Holiday Proposition

December 8, 2009

Los Angeles:  Los Angeles police detectives broke up a downtown gambling ring last Saturday, December 5, 2009, with the arrest of an 8-person shell game in the 500 block of Los Angeles Street.  The eight arrested, ages 27 to 67 years old, were booked on felony conspiracy charges and illegal gambling with bails set at $20,000 each.

“Any shopper who thinks they can parlay gift money into a big wad of cash is going to be sadly disappointed,” said Lt. Paul Vernon, who is in charge of detective operations for downtown.  “No one ever wins in a shell game, and what’s worse, much of the money lost goes right into the pockets of gang members who tax the gambling rings.”

Detectives attributed about one dozen grand-theft and robbery reports to shell games along Los Angeles Street since last November.  Shell games occurred during the holiday season in 2008, resulting in a similar spate of crimes.

According to detectives, the shell game is based on the proposition that the gambler can pick the ball hidden under one of three shells, which the “tosser,” or dealer, mixes as the gambler watches.  If the gambler guesses correctly, he doubles his bet.

“That’s the hook,” Vernon explained.  “It looks so easy — guess where the ball is — but the tosser uses slight-of-hand to hide the ball.  You’ll never find it.”

The tosser also employs shills who pose as gamblers and are allowed to win, which entices victims to play.  The tosser uses lookouts and enforcers to alert them to police and to intimidate local business owners who don’t want the gambling in front of their businesses. The operations are set up to be mobile, using collapsible cardboard boxes and towels that can be rolled up.

“We want everyone to stay clear of these games,” Lt. Vernon warned.  “They are a nuisance that separates one from one’s money, while attracting and supporting a dangerous criminal element.  Typically, we see crime drop in the immediate area after making these arrests.”

Among the eight arrested were Juan Arroyo, 42, the ring leader; and the two tossers, Santana Valencia, 67, and Adrian Sanchez, 43.  Twenty-seven year old Olga Candia was the only woman arrested.  All eight arrested live in Los Angeles.

Anyone with information is asked to call LAPD Central Division detectives at 213-972-1203. Callers can also phone the 24-hour number at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247).  Tipsters may text “crimes” with a cell phone.  All messages should begin with “LAPD.”  Tipsters may remain anonymous.

Newsrooms may find on the internet a demonstration video of how the shell game works.  It was filmed by the Los Angeles Times for a similar story in January 2009.