Last week’s closing of two pea shake houses on the city’s east side has raised questions about the role of such establishments in the local Black community.
Authorities shut down the houses on May 27.
One house was located in the 1500 block of Yandes St. in the Martindale Brightwood area. Undercover detectives made three visits to gather evidence before police executed a warrant, which led to the arrest of seven people ranging in age from 24 to 71. Two boxes of illegal gambling paraphernalia were collected, along with $1,626 in cash.
A raid at the other pea shake house, located in the 1500 block of Columbia Ave., led to the arrest of three individuals, as well as the confiscation of a box of pull tickets, a bag of gambling paraphernalia, and electronics such as televisions, stereos and cameras.
All of the individuals arrested have been charged with “promoting professional gambling,” according to a report by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Sgt. Paul Thompson, a spokesman for IMPD, said the raids are part of an ongoing effort to address complaints of illegal gambling in Marion County.
“Our officers had knowledge of illegal activity taking place and their investigation led to the arrests,” Thompson said.
However, operators reopened the pea shake houses within days of the raids, which is not unusual.
“I’ve been here 31 years and have noticed reports of neforcement actions at pea shake houses, then seeing them back in the news again,” Thompson said. “We do the best we can to close down illegal gambling activity, but it does seem to resurface later regardless.”
At pea shake houses, patrons use combinations of numbers, pull tabs or tickets to win money. People pay different amounts to play, and can collect several thousand dollars if they win. Winners are determined by a combination of numbers painted on “peas,” which are similar to dice. Operators shake the peas from a container several times a day.
Pea shake houses have had a presence in the local African-American community for generations, and some residents say they have helped struggling families.
“These places help people make ends meet,” said Mike Patterson, a pea shake supporter. “Your chances of winning are better with the pea shake houses. Why can we have a lottery, betting tracks and casinos across the state, but not pea shake houses? It’s because they cut lottery profits.”
Sheila Robinson, who also lives in the area, is on the side of residents who believe pea shake houses hinder neighborhood crime fighting efforts and discourage economic investment in areas where they are located.
““Folks know where the money is at, and they will go there to sell drugs, weapons or anything else,” said Robinson. “Places like that invite you to spend money, but they can’t guarantee your safety from someone who just wants to take the cash.”
Police say pea shake houses, poker clubs and other illegal gambling establishments can attract robbers or drug activity.
“When people know there is a large amount of cash in these operations, they become targets of thieves or robbers,” IMPD’s Thompson said. “And, when you have the possibility for armed robbery, there is a higher potential for people to be injured or killed, and we would like to prevent that.”
City-County Councilman Jose Evans and former Councilman Ron Gibson, the two African-American candidates running for mayor of Indianapolis, weighed in on pea shake houses and their impact on the Black community.
Gibson expressed mixed views.
“For years, I’ve seen people go and pull those numbers and the extra money would help them during hard times,” he stated. “I’ve seen the good that they have done, but at the same time their transactions are simply illegal.”
Gibson noted that the state already has several forms of legalized gambling, and recommends that supporters of pea shake houses petition their representatives in the Indiana General Assembly to legalize those as well, instead of breaking the law.
“Those houses could be used as a source of tax revenue that could help our community in another way,” he added.
Evans said city government should focus on rebuilding neighborhoods as much as it does downtown, and he believes part of that focus involves reducing crime.
“Right now we still have high rates of homicide and drug use, so reducing crime has to be a priority,” Evans said. “If pea shake houses are part of the crime problem, then they need to be addressed, regardless of whether some people are for or against them.”
Evans is also open to the idea of state government or the City-County Council looking into legalization of pea shake houses. However, he believes leaders should first focus on more pressing challenges.
“We do have legal gambling options right now,” Evans said. “But with the homicide rates, possible library branch closings and IndyGo cuts looming, we have other priorities besides pea shake houses.”
Evans and Gibson are running for the 2011 Democratic nomination for mayor, along with Melina Kennedy and Brian Williams, to challenge Republican Mayor Greg Ballard.
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