An armed Soboba Casino employee allegedly bound his co-workers with tape, entered a vault containing millions of dollars and escaped with cash early Thursday.
It was not known exactly how much was taken in the high-dollar heist, but Riverside County sheriff's officials said the vault contained at least $2 million.
"He didn't exactly clean it out, but he took all of the big bills, so we're thinking in excess of $1 million," said Assistant Sheriff Pat McManus.
The suspect, identified as 25-year-old Rolando L. Ramos of Hemet, worked as a Soboba Casino technician for two years, repairing the casino's video surveillance.
"That's why he would have extensive knowledge of the casino layout, movement of cash and layout and access to the vault," McManus said.
Deputies received a call about the robbery at 5:24 a.m. and came minutes later to the casino at 23333 Soboba Road near San Jacinto.
Deputies had to force their way into the casino vault area.
"Upon entry, deputies encountered three employees who were bound with tape," McManus said.
More employees were bound with tape in another room and one had been pepper sprayed. The employees suffered minor injuries. None of the casino patrons were hurt.
Guards kept Soboba guests from leaving for several hours while authorities investigated the crime. Many guests went back to gambling, while others stood around the entrances trying to find out what had happened.
"They had guards at the front and back door, and we were all told to stay put where we were in the buildings," said Glen Huffman, 71, of Lytle Creek.
One woman experiencing heart problems was allowed to leave after she was searched, Huffman said.
But he saw no guests being questioned by investigators.
"No one knew what was going on," he said.
Such a robbery is a rare occurrence because tribes spend millions of dollars in high-tech security, surveillance systems and round-the-clock monitoring. McManus said it was the first Indian casino in Riverside County to be the target of such a robbery and may be the first in the state.
Jacob Coin, spokesman for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near San Bernardino, said Las Vegas gaming security executives and representatives from other tribes have checked out the San Manuels' system since the tribe's new gaming facility opened in January 2005.
Gaming officials consider it a model for consideration in building their own systems, Coin said.
It should be enough to make a would-be robber think twice.
"Certainly a big reason is the layers of regulations and security and surveillance that each of these tribal properties put into place to guard against these kinds of incidents," Coin said.
But even the most top-notch security didn't help at Soboba. Ramos walked in the vault wearing his uniform, identification badge and tool belt, carrying on in his duties just as he did any other day over the past two years, McManus said.
"This time he pulled out a gun," he said.
Deputies searched the man's Hemet apartment and found some theatrical makeup.
"We just assume that he's trying to disguise his appearance," McManus said.