OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — A Winter Garden man was arrested earlier this month on a misdemeanor charge for “keeping a gambling house” in Crestview with a gaming room and slot machines at an internet café, according to a release from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
Lin Zhou, 56, used The Lucky Pearl Internet Café off North Ferdon Boulevard. Investigators said there were roughly 23,413 transactions paid to the Lucky Pearl totaling $758,905 via CashApp from Nov. 11, 2020, to Nov. 12, 2021.
An investigation began in Nov. 2020. In Jan. 2021, an undercover investigator went to the internet café. An employee described the business as “its online slot machines, or you can come in and play. It’s like gambling. We pay you cash if you come in or we can pay through Cash App.”
The employee also told the undercover investigator the “establishment possessed older stand alone computerized slot machines that you can put cash into and play.”
In February 2021, another employee told an OSCO undercover investigator the business had internet slots and they could use real money, but they would need to make an account online. The employee said 90 percent of their business is online and they use CashApp to pay out and collect money. The undercover investigator start playing the standalone slot machine and was paid out $17 and 10 cents in cash by an employee.
In April 2021, another undercover investigator went to the internet café and was told “the business operated similar to the casinos on tribal land in Atmore, Ala.” Like previous undercover investigators, he began playing on the standalone slot machines.
Undercover investigators located a public Facebook page with posts “claiming they pay out cash to winners.”
One customer posted a review and said, “Absolutely love I can play instore at their location or at home!! And yes Real money!!! I’ve hit progressive for over $6000 and I’ve hit $1400 playing the games they pay cash!!!.”
Several other customers posted similar reviews on the internet cafe’s Facebook page.
In May, August and Oct. 2021, undercover investigators also played on the machines and were paid out in cash.
In Nov. 2021, a search warrant was executed by the Okaloosa County Multi-Agency Drug Task Force. Deputies found roughly 43 computers on table with monitors with games installed. $8,992 was collected in cash from the stand-alone gambling machines.
The task force did a review of the cafe’s Region bank account and CashApp record. Deputies confirmed there were transactions exceeding $700,000 with comments such as “casino” and “gambling app.” From Nov. 2020 to Nov. 2021, roughly $13,072 was paid out to customers through CashApp with the comment “winnings.”
Zhou “would only specify it was just games when questioned about the legitimacy of the business’ operations,” according to OCSO. Further investigation showed the Lucky Pearl Internet Café is not a “legitimate and sanctioned gambling facility and the computerized slot machine in a business outside a sanctioned facility is a violation of law.”