Alcohol Law Enforcement agents executed a search warrant at a single-story, white, wood-frame building at 156 Bear Road, off N.C. Highway 242 in a rural area near Benson. The Johnston County Sheriff's Office and state Highway patrol assisted.
Officers arrested 71 people, including property owner Marvin Ray Johnson, and confiscated more than $70,000 from what officials described as a large, sophisticated operation that drew gamblers from out-of-state.
"It was a fairly large operation for North Carolina. It was basically a mini-casino," Ron Kaylor, ALE's deputy director for operations, said Monday. "This is the first one I've seen in my 20 years like this."
Investigators also seized a craps table, a roulette wheel and blackjack and poker tables. The establishment even had a fully staffed kitchen to feed gamblers, investigators said.
Agents said they found professional gamblers from other states during the raid. The ongoing investigation could continue to net more arrests, Kaylor said.
"There was a link with the Internet that could possibly be linked with other sites in North Carolina or the nation," he said.
All 71 people arrested face misdemeanor gambling charges. Johnson faces additional charges for operating a gambling facility.
ALE sought a search warrant after it received numerous complaints and conducted its own undercover investigation.
According to the search warrant, complainants said the building was used for a number of poker games, such as Texas Hold 'Em, blackjack and roulette. The establishment hosted several big tournaments a year, with large amounts of money bet and 40 to 50 people participating in the games, complainants said in the search warrant.
An undercover ALE agent claimed to have seen illegal gambling going on and described the establishment as "a small casino." The agent also claimed to overhear card dealers "telling patrons they would try not to take all of their money," according to the search warrant.
Donnie McLamb, who lives nearby, said he had heard rumors about possible gambling at the building but was surprised at the extent of what authorities found.
"I've never been in there, so I wouldn't know, but they've never caused any trouble up here that I know of, not in the neighborhood, they haven't," McLamb said. "They kind of kept it low key."
North Carolina has recently seen an increasing number of raids on illegal gambling operations.
In January, Lee County deputies deputies raided Kendale Service Center at 1507 S. Horner Blvd. and confiscated eight cases of poker chips, cards, poker tables, $275 in cash, an illegal slot machine and bottles of liquor.
In May, Buncombe County deputies raided an underground casino in the back of a Candler convenience store and seized nine video-poker machines.
In early August, Operation Empty Pockets netted 64 video-poker machines from more than 60 locations, including many private homes.