Johannesburg - A large gang of armed men stormed the Carnival City Casino on the East Rand early today, hitting the vault before shooting four people as they fled the scene.
Traffic was closed off as police continued their investigation at the casino, causing traffic delays.
Reports on the incident, which happened some time between midnight and 3am, have differed with regard to the size of the gang. Police have said there were about 15 men involved, while a witness estimated the number to be about 25 people.
“(About) 15 men carrying (angle) grinders entered the casino, most armed with firearms,” said police spokeswoman Sergeant Patricia Rabalao. She said they robbed two security guards of their firearms and shot another two guards, as well as one police reservist and a bystander, as they fled. Five patrons were also assaulted.
The two guards and the reservist are in a critical condition in hospital.
An undisclosed amount of money was stolen from the vault after the robbers broke into it with the grinding equipment and a sledge-hammer, said provincial police spokeswoman Captain Julia Claassen.
“They went straight to the vault and ordered patrons to lie down,” she said, confirming that five patrons were assaulted.
A shift manager at the casino was able to alert the police while the suspects were busy.
Numerous bright plastic cones littered the R554 highway in front of Carnival City this morning, bearing witness to the gun battle that had taken place. The cones were used to mark areas where spent cartridges lay – scattered all over the road after the robbers, police and security guards exchanged gunfire.
According to Captain Joep Joubert of the Brakpan police, about 20 men stormed the casino at about 12.30am. They were armed with AK47s, R5s and pistols. They held up the cashier and took an undisclosed amount of money, he said.
“Two guards were seriously injured and taken to hospital. Police also arrived on the scene and (a) shootout happened. One of the police officers was seriously hurt,” Joubert said.
Three cars were allegedly used in the robbery – a white Toyota Hilux bakkie, a white BMW 5 series and a silver Nissan Nevara. The bakkie was found abandoned in Dalpark nearby.
“A manhunt is ongoing,” said Claassen, adding that no arrests had been made as of 9am.
Police said they could not yet confirm the size of the gang, as reports on the scene differed.
“Just after (3am) we had numerous calls to our call centre that there was a shootout at a casino,” said ER24 spokesman Werner Vermaak.
He said paramedics described the scene as a “chaotic incident” as people were running around shocked and traumatised. They offered trauma support to people inside the casino and treated six bystanders for minor injuries.
One witness told the paramedics she counted 25 men, armed with rifles, who stormed the casino and started shooting.
Traffic approaching Heidelburg Road along the N17 was closed off while police continued their investigations.