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Arizona authorities pull plug on Internet gambling operation

PHOENIX — Tucked inside a tiny strip mall near 15th Avenue and Indian School Road, there is a barbershop.

Or, at least that’s what the sign on the building outside advertised it to be.

When a man outside the shop was asked if anyone was getting a haircut inside he laughed and said,
“I’ve never seen it.”

The Barbershop Internet Cafe sits across the street from
Kenneth Stanford’s place. Stanford said he’s been inside the cafe but has never gambled there.

“There are no barber chairs,” he said, “but there were computers set up … on about four different rows on each side.”

The Barbershop Internet Café was one of six illegal gambling locations agents closed down this week. All were connected to one suspect.

“Eric Stelljes was indicted on charges from the case,” said Dan Bergin, director of the Department of Gaming.

He said 60 law enforcers from his department, the Department of Public Safety, Phoenix Police, and the State Attorney General’s Office worked on the raid and served warrants at all six properties.

Agents seized money, 21 weapons, three vehicles, six ATVs and more than 50 gambling devices, Bergin said.

“People were paying money for an opportunity to win a prize, based on chance, therefore, it is gambling under our Arizona laws,” Attorney General Mark Brnovich said.

It was not the first time Stelljes had gambled with the law, which meant he could face charges including money laundering, which is a class II felony in Arizona, Brnovich said.

If he is convicted, Stelljes could be imprisoned for up to 12 years.

As for the people caught playing the Internet sweepstakes, Brnovich did not appear to be as concerned.

“Our focus,” he said, “is on those operating the illegal gambling, not those that may not have fully appreciated that the activity was illegal.”

Stanford wondered why a game of chance is illegal at the Barber Shop, but not illegal at an Indian casino or playing the state lottery.

“You know, it’s a conflict there. The governments need to get their act together!”

Brnovich said, “Voters here want gambling to be limited and well regulated.” He added legal gambling was limited to approved circumstances where “(people) know if they’re going to lose their money, they’re going to lose it fair and square.”

Stanford later seemed relieved with the explanation.

“Well, that’s a good thing. If they’re cheating the people, I don’t like to be cheated!”

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