Police have arrested six people and seized almost $2.5 million in cash after a series of raids in southwestern Ontario — including a Toronto-area Super Bowl gambling party — in connection with a multimillion-dollar illegal gaming operation.
On Sunday night, police broke up a gaming operation of more than 2,300 people at a banquet hall in Markham, Ont., and executed nine other search warrants at related residences and businesses, York Regional Police said at a news conference.
Police said this was the largest investigation to date targetting illegal gaming and organized crime, involving officers from different agencies at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.
"The people found within this gaming house were dispersed in an orderly fashion, while those profiting from this were arrested," said Supt. Paul Pedersen. "Six men have been arrested and charged with participating in a criminal organization and other gaming-related charges."
The names and specific charges of the men, who are based in the Greater Toronto Area, were to be released later today, he added.
Police moved in on Le Parc Banquet Hall at Regional Road 7 and Leslie Street at around 7 p.m. ET, during the second quarter of the NFL championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore that was won by the Ravens.
The event was organized by an online gambling site called Platinum SB, police say. The website, which is hosted offshore in Costa Rica, was shut down by RCMP and redirected to a police portal. On Monday morning alone, the website received more than 17,000 hits, Pedersen added.
Police seized several items, including a Sea-Doo and other expensive door and raffle prizes on offer, as well as 20 computers, cellphones and business records.
The party, as well as the gaming website, was invitation only, police said.
"[Invites] were given out only to those associated directly with their criminal enterprise," Pedersen said.
Those involved were believed to be members of "outlaw motorcycle gangs" and other organized crime rings, he added.
The banquet hall appeared deserted by Monday morning, with just a couple of York police cruisers outside. But the remnants of Sunday's festivities inside could still be seen through the glass windows, reported the CBC's Trevor Dunn.
"There are still lots of beer bottles on the tables," he said. "There's a red carpet set up, decorations, posters, banners — including some that appear to show the insignia of the Hells Angels biker gang," he said.
Raffle prizes at the party included two Kawasaki jet skis, a Rolex Yacht-Master watch, and cash in both $7,000 and $3,000 amounts, Dunn added.
Door prizes at the party included a 55-inch LED television, a pair of platinum Leafs tickets, and a Polk speaker system.
York police worked with the RCMP and other Toronto-area police organizations. The investigation was co-ordinated by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) — a joint police task force.
The nine other search warrants were executed across the GTA, and as far as London, Ont., at businesses and homes of the six people arrested.
Police searched a home in Vaughan, Ont., where they seized a large safe that had to be removed on a flatbed truck.