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State allows Artichoke Joes to reopen

 | Published on 3/11/2011


The California Gambling Control Commission has allowed Artichoke Joe’s to reopen after it was shut down March 2 during a two-city raid of it and the Oak Card Club in Emeryville. 

The commission’s approval was based on new controls being put in place at the card room. 

 “I do not and cannot condone illegal activity at Artichoke Joe’s,” owner Dennis Sammut said in a prepared statement. “I thank the state for taking these steps to root out this illegal activity. We thought we had the proper security measures and procedures in place to make sure this type of activity did not occur. Clearly, we now know we didn’t do enough and need to do more.”

Sammut said he also apologized to the commission and pledged to do everything possible to work with them and ensure such criminal activity never returns. The San Bruno card room was originally set to open last night, but is now set to open today.

Artichoke Joe’s was raided last week as part of a large-scale investigation into organized crime in which 14 people were arrested. Federal authorities say Hoa The Nguyen, 47, of Alameda, made nearly 400 deposits totaling nearly $3 million into personal accounts between 2006 and 2010. 

Last Wednesday, federal officials swarmed Artichoke Joe’s, frisked its patrons and closed the card room’s doors to customers as investigators executed search and arrest warrants.

Federal prosecutors say Nguyen and the 13 others all worked for or frequented the two card rooms.

The suspects are charged with racketeering, loan sharking and drug sales, among other charges and acted independently from casino ownership. Many of the defendants offered casino chips as loans, according to an indictment. 

Some of the conspirators’ victims were given $5,000 and $10,000 loans at 10 percent interest per week and were threatened with physical violence if the payments were late, according to the indictment.

Some of the defendants are also being charged with distributing cocaine and ecstasy.

The indictment is the result of an approximately two-year investigation led by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration working with the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Gambling Control and the Internal Revenue Service.

Sammut said Artichoke Joe’s has agreed to various conditions to improve security and implement new procedures in operations, staffing and the physical layout of the card room. The casino will also bring in an outside gaming enforcement expert trained to recognize illegal activity and develop procedures and training materials, Sammut added.  

 “Our family has prided ourselves on running a clean, safe and legal operation since we opened over 90 years ago,” Sammut said. “I want the public, the citizens of San Bruno, my employees and customers to know that we will be leaving no stone unturned in making sure Artichoke Joe’s earns back that reputation.”

Artichoke Joe’s operates 40 poker tables and employee more than 320 employees. It is one of the largest taxpayers in the city of San Bruno and is active in civic and charitable causes.