Few states have similar gambling control police, which Indiana legislators created in 2007 to crack down on illegal gambling when they approved adding slot machines at the state's two horse racing tracks.
The Gaming Control Division, part of the Indiana Gaming Commission, reports that more than 5,000 illegal electronic gambling machines often called Cherry Masters are no longer operating in the state, with many of them confiscated.
"As time has gone on I think we have rid the state of the dreaded Cherry Masters," Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, told The Journal Gazette. "We have branched out since then."
The gambling police unit has five officers assigned each to the north, south and central regions of the state investigating activities such as high-stakes poker games, dogfighting rings and sports-betting operations.
For instance, in Allen County last year, a gaming commission investigation led to the arrest of five men for their roles in a longtime poker den. All five have since pleaded guilty and received suspended sentences or probation.
The division doesn't target personal poker games in someone's garage or basement, Yelton said, but when the person running the game starts taking a cut of every bet, it becomes illegal professional gambling.
Occasionally the gaming police become involved with entities that run charity gaming events. In one such case, three people were charged this year for using a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in in the northern Indiana city of Warsaw to run a poker room.
One man, who was not a member of the post, was being paid by the VFW to run the operation, including bringing in dealers from Fort Wayne and "raking" 10 percent of each pot of money in violation of charity gaming rule, according to authorities. More than $370,000 was received as gross revenue from the gambling activities, but the VFW post made only about $4,000, court records said.
Most of the investigations result from tips to the gaming commission.
"I think all areas (of the state) have quite a bit of illegal gambling," Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said. "I think you have to have a prosecutor who is willing to look at some of these cases to make a dent."
Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, voted against the bill that created the gambling police unit in 2007. He finds the special division a bit hypocritical since the state authorizes and taxes an array of gambling.
"We are a major gambling state. Why are we messing around with someone's poker game?" he said. "I think there''s probably better places to put that money than the harm being caused by these. We are protecting our turf, I guess."
Yelton disagrees with that argument, saying some unregulated games are rigged against the players. He said it's often more about the related crimes to the gambling, including illegal firearm possession, drugs and money laundering.
The unit has an annual budget of about $1 million, which comes from charity gaming fees.