Alleged Worcester operation broken up when undercover officer joins game
OCEAN PINES -- Prosecutors said they would press charges against 12 of 15 people police found inside a makeshift gambling hall in Ocean Pines last week.
The alleged participants traveled from as far away as Cambridge and Milton, Del., to play poker at an Ocean Pines mall, according to addresses provided by law enforcement. The 12 people were charged with gambling, which carries maximum penalties of a year in jail or $1,000 in fines. The suspected organizer of the poker game, Steven E. Foss, 35, of Ocean City, was arrested at the scene on additional charges.
On Monday, State's Attorney Joel Todd's office said 15 people inside the poker hall in addition to Foss were identified for pending charges.
Spokeswoman Mary Nelson said the remaining people were not being charged at this time.
Charging documents filed in the Worcester County District Court show an undercover police officer paid $40 to join the Friday night game, which took place at 11022 Nicholas Lane, inside the Village Square Shopping Center. While the officer was inside playing poker, uniformed officers raided the storefront, according to the charges.
On Wednesday, the store's windows were blocked by taped-up newspapers. In between a Subway restaurant and a window treatment store, a gap in the newsprint behind the glass showed beer cans, paper cups and a pack of cigarettes left on four folding tables inside. The room was undecorated and cluttered with cardboard boxes.
Mike Layfield, behind the counter at the nearby Continental Cycles, said the storefront had been empty for years until two or three weeks ago, when he noticed a man moving folding furniture into it and blocking the windows with newspapers.
"There was only one time that I saw people in there," Layfield said. "It was all covered up. You couldn't see in."
Layfield said he didn't believe the act of gambling itself was dangerous.
"These guys were playing cards for money. What's the big deal?" he asked. "It must have been something more."
Chris Carroll, an Ocean Pines resident, said he hoped casual card games in people's homes wouldn't be targeted next.
"I appreciate that they're not letting illegal gambling casinos operate in public places," Carroll said Wednesday.
The 12 people charged Wednesday were not arrested but issued criminal summonses, telling them to appear in court.