Totally busted

Paradise bar owner cited for football pool

Chris Fierro, owner of the Canteena in Paradise, was cited a few days before the Super Bowl for running a football pool out of his bar.

Chris Fierro, owner of the Canteena in Paradise, was cited a few days before the Super Bowl for running a football pool out of his bar.

Photo By jaime o’neill

There was trouble in Paradise in the days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, trouble that starts with “g,” which stands for gambling. On professional sports. In a bar. In Paradise. Actual wagering. On a game played on a Sunday.

Acting on an anonymous tip, Paradise police launched a sting operation that netted Chris Fierro, owner of the Canteena on the Skyway, who was cited for operating a football pool just days before the biggest football game of the year.

Despite the notoriety caused by his bust, Fierro’s bar was jumping at half-time on Super Bowl Sunday, with just about every stool and chair occupied. Two bartenders were working the place while the owner watched The Who perform on one of the big-screen TVs that adorn the walls.

Fierro, 43, neither looks nor acts like a scofflaw, let alone a gambling kingpin from Paradise. When his picture was taken for this piece, the flash went off, and one of the patrons yelled, “Hey Chris, what are you getting busted for now?” and the place erupted in laughter.

Even in Paradise, there were people who felt that a police chief who would authorize a “sting” operation on a barroom football pool must have been a graduate of the Barney Fife School of Law Enforcement, so it seemed obvious that Fierro has made an enemy. Who had Fierro pissed off?

“I can’t imagine,” he answered, raising his voice to make himself heard above the hubbub. “I try to get along with everyone. My folks were in business up here in Paradise for a long time, and I’ve been running a bar for seven years, and I haven’t had trouble with anyone. Some of my customers think it might have been one of my competitors.”

He smiled, wryly.

“I know of at least three other bars that are running football pools. We do it for our customers. It brings in foot traffic. People come in to check their numbers; they buy a beer. It’s kind of a service. We don’t make any money on the pool itself. I don’t let my bartenders buy squares, and I don’t, either.

“I know these kinds of pools are against the law, but betting on the Super Bowl is going on everywhere. Three undercover cops were assigned to this, and the day I was cited, three kids got beat up in this community, and I don’t know if busting my Super Bowl pool was the best use of time and resources.”

On the night the citation was issued, Fierro was home with his wife. One of his bartenders called to tell him the police were there. “I came down to the bar,” he said. “They were very nice about it, very professional. They issued the citation, and I went back home.

“This is a small town,” Fierro said, “so my bartender had recognized two of the cops who tried to buy slots in the pool [as part of the sting], but he didn’t know the third guy.”

Fierro has spoken with an attorney, but he has not yet decided if he’s going to fight the citation in court.

Chief Chris Buzzard of the Paradise Police Department insists that he is obliged to respond to complaints from citizens.

“This originated with a complaint we received, and it was detailed,” Buzzard said. “And that activity wasn’t confined to betting on the Super Bowl. It had been going on throughout the football season. [The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] said they were interested in working with us on this case. It was out in plain sight. The bar owner clearly knew it was illegal because the bartender took the undercover officer into the back room to conduct the transaction, and once the officer identified himself the citation was issued. The Canteena is an ABC-licensed facility. There are clear guidelines that come with that license.”

Chief Buzzard doesn’t deny that gambling is common in bars, but he brushes aside the idea that selective law enforcement may have been at work to single out one bar for something that is so widely practiced.

“Gambling is illegal,” Buzzard said, “just as serving alcohol to minors is illegal. So, there may be action from ABC as to the bar’s license. These are both criminal and administrative offenses. There were no complaints about any other facility. We don’t go into homes, and we don’t raid betting that’s going on between individuals. Bar betting may be common elsewhere, but I can only concern myself with what goes on in Paradise, and we acted on a complaint. It’s also illegal for individuals to participate in these pools, and we have evidence of the people who participated, but we’re not going after them.”

As to the $2,000 the police confiscated, those bettors can all chalk up their losses to experience because they’re not going to see that money again.

“If the case goes to trial, the judge will decide what happens to that money,” Buzzard said.