Los Angeles Councilman Vows to Address City’s Rising ‘Slaphouse’ Problem

Los Angeles City Council will explore new measures to battle illegal gambling dens and so-called “slaphouses” in the city, per a new motion introduced this week by Councilman Bob Blumenfield.

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The “Fish Hunter” genre of arcade games (pictured), popular in China, Japan, and Korea, has become the prevalent game in the slaphouses of Los Angeles. (Image: Charlotte Observer)

The motion directs city departments to find ways to deter landlords from leasing commercial properties to those involved in illegal gaming and to force them to terminate leases when infractions are uncovered, MyNewsLA reports.

“These are not friendly weekend poker game,” Blumenfield said. “These are full-fledged illegal casinos fixed with gambling machines, many of which with deep ties to local and international organized crime syndicates. We need to get a handle on this now to shut them down.”

What’s a Slaphouse?

Slaphouses — apparently named for the button-bashing sound made by patrons playing on illegal machines — are a growing phenomenon in LA and elsewhere. Often springing up in areas where retail has taken a downturn, they usually look like vacant storefronts and sometimes still sport the signage of the previous occupying business.

Inside, you won’t find traditional slots. These gaming machines usually come from overseas – most often from Japan, China or Korea — and offer arcade-style, skill-based gambling games.  

Police raids have frequently turned up what authorities have described as an arcade-style “fishing game” built into a table. These are the “Fish Hunter” genre of games — which include titles like King of TreasuresDragon Hunter, and Ocean King. They’ve been popular in Asia for the past 15 years but are now an American slaphouse staple. These particular titles are made and distributed by various companies based in China, according to their websites.

European Connection?

According to Blumfield, slaphouses are linked to an increase in crime, including gang activity, the sale of drugs, and prostitution. Last year, LAPD executed 48 search warrants for illegal gambling dens, a 300 percent increase on the previous year.

FOX 11 recently joined Vice units from LAPD’s Valley Bureau on nine separate raids of illegal casinos operating throughout the San Fernando Valley. The news channel learned that in many cases the slaphouses’ finances and servers were controlled by criminals in Eastern Europe.

Blumfield’s motion also asks the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, in consultation with the Department of City Planning, Department of Water and Power and the LAPD, to prepare a report on strategies and tools that could deter gambling operators from setting up in abandoned storefronts. The councilman said this would have the dual purpose of eliminating slaphouses and providing enforcement tools other than the LAPD.

Last year, the California legislature passed a bill that made it easier for local authorities to seize assets from illegal gambling dens.

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