A Super Bowl party in Markham, Ont., came to an abrupt end Sunday evening after police raided the venue in connection with an illegal online gambling investigation, arresting six people at the scene.
York Regional Police said high-ranking members of organized crime groups were the target of the raid, which took place at the invitation-only event hosted by sports-betting website Platinum SB.
“I want to be clear that this event last night was not open to the public,” Supt. Paul Pedersen told reporters at a news conference on Monday. “Only those invited by the organizers of this criminal enterprise could attend.”
Police moved in on Le Parc Banquet Hall in Markham shortly into the second quarter of the Super Bowl as an estimated 2,300 guests were taking in the game.
Footage from the scene showed a number of people being escorted from the site in handcuffs.
“Hey this is where your tax dollars went — to a Super Bowl party,” suspect Martin Spruce called out to cameras as officers led him away from the scene.
Police also arrested suspects William Miller, Arno Thomsen, Shlomo Buchler, David Hair and Andrew Bielli during Sunday’s raid.
The suspects have been charged with participation in criminal organizations and other gaming-related charges, said Pedersen. They are scheduled to appear in court on March 21.
The two-year investigation was conducted by a joint police task force and targeted an enterprise that handled millions of dollars in bets, according to York police.
Pedersen said nine other search warrants were executed throughout the GTA Sunday night at the homes and businesses of the principle targets of the investigation. More than 400 officers were involved in the searches.
Almost $2.5 million dollars was seized from Le Parc, along with 20 computers, cell phones, business records and a large safe.
Police said the website’s servers are located in Costa Rica while those running the gaming site are based in the GTA.
By Sunday night, the Platinum SB website had been blocked. An RCMP notice posted on the website said “restrained by a court order.”
Police said as of Monday morning the site received more than 17,000 hits from illegal gamers trying to collect on their bets. Hundreds of calls made to the Platinum SB customer service line were redirected to the RCMP.
Pedersen said the investigation is only in the beginning stages and will focus on those profiting from the illegal website, “not on those using the gaming site.”
He added that police are “very comfortable” in saying the Super Bowl party was hosted by members of organized crime groups.
“We’re also comfortable saying that there were members who were part of outlawed motorcycle gangs and traditional organized crime,” he said, adding that police are looking into whether the Hells Angels are linked to the investigation.
A police source told CTV Toronto the software used by Platinum SB was created by the Hells Angels.
Ousted party-goers told CTV Toronto that they didn’t see any illegal gambling taking place inside the venue.
“It was supposedly off-shore gambling,” one patron told CTV Toronto. “Nobody inside has actually physically placed a bet.”
But Pederson says gambling can take a horrific toll on the community.
“I think all we have to do is look back to the California Sandwiches case,” Pederson said. “Ask Louise Russo whether or not organized crime and debt collection has an impact on our community.”
In the 2004 case, a botched mob hit paralyzed Louise Russo, an innocent bystander, as she ate at a California Sandwiches restaurant. The hit was meant to settle an unpaid gambling debt.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Tamara Cherry and files from The Canadian Press