Police say an Internet cafe located in a Gretna shopping center was a front for an illegal gambling operation. Investigators raided the Lucky Times Internet Cafe, 64 West Bank Expressway, just after 10 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 8), Gretna Police Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana said.
Officers simultaneously served search warrants at two residences in New Orleans. Detectives arrested Lucky Times owner Jason Toma, 35, and the business' manager, Manuel Villagran, 48, both of Michigan. Gretna Police were still searching for a second owner, Marshall Isso, 50, as of Wednesday evening.
Investigators found a safe containing a large amount of cash and marijuana at the business, Christiana said. They also located additional drugs at a New Orleans apartment rented by one of the suspects.
The West Bank Major Crimes Task Force, Gretna Police and the State Police conducted a two-month undercover investigation, Christiana said. They determined the cafe was masquerading as a business where patrons could use the Internet, send faxes or make copies. In reality, the cafe's 90 computer terminals were used for online gambling with games such as black jack, roulette and slot machines, Christiana said.
"It's advertised as 'sweepstakes.' But when you get down to it, it's gambling, " Christiana said.
Gretna Police say the owners of Lucky Times Internet Cafe operated an illegal gambling operation from their storefront, 64 West Bank Expressway, Gretna. Detectives raided the location Wednesday (Jan. 8).Michelle Hunter / NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
The cafe, sandwiched between Rooms To Go and Finish Line Off Track Betting, was comprised of a single, large room with plain, gray walls and rows of tables and computers. The business operated from 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., authorities said.
Patrons bought an access number and password along with credits to play games. They could then swipe their card at a terminal and begin gaming. Similar to casinos, players earned credits based on their wagers and wins, Christiana said. They could then "cash out" afterwards.
Detectives determined that players could also access the games offsite, but had to return to the cafe to claim any winnings.