Johannesburg - Ten minutes. That’s all it took for 20 heavily armed robbers to cut open the Carnival City cash counter with hammers and grinders and take the cash inside.
All around them, scared patrons and employees of the casino lay on the floor after being instructed to do so by the robbers.
After cleaning out the safe, the men fled the casino, only to be confronted by security guards and police officers. A fierce gunbattle ensued.
When it was all over, two security guards and a reservist constable had been shot and seriously wounded. None of the robbers were injured in the shootout.
Scores of cartridges lay scattered around, bearing witness to the violence.
Provincial police spokeswoman Captain Julia Claassen said the heavily armed men entered the casino through the staff entrance at about 12.30am. They were armed with AK-47s and R5s, she said, and used five vehicles – a white BMW, a white Toyota Hilux, a silver Nissan Navara, a silver Mercedes-Benz and an unidentified vehicle.
At the gate, some of the robbers allegedly held up the guards while the others went inside the casino.
From there they used various entrances to get to the casino.
“Once inside, they placed themselves strategically. They told the patrons to lie down and not make a noise. They went to the cash desk and pointed guns at the cashiers.
“The safe has burglar bars around it and the robbers used hammers and grinders to cut it open. The entire incident took about 10 minutes. After taking the money, they shot at police and security guards as they fled,” she said.
Claassen said police were scrutinising CCTV footage for clues.
The Hilux was later found abandoned on Lourens Street in Brakpan.
“Police found a hammer and live ammunition inside. The vehicle had been reported stolen in Douglasdale in October,” Claassen said.
Derek Panaino, Carnival City’s general manager, said the casino was still assessing how much cash had been taken.
“We are co-operating fully with the SAPS, who are investigating the circumstances surrounding the robbery. All security surveillance equipment functioned exactly to form and has been made available to investigators. Trauma counselling has been offered to staff, customers and anyone else affected by the incident,” he said.
The incident comes just five days after a group of suspected bank and casino robbers were acquitted in Durban. They were accused of carrying out robberies at casinos in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State in 2010. The gang faced eight counts of robbery and two of attempted murder.
Their modus operandi was to work in groups of 15 and 20, using hammers to smash gates around the cashiers. There was no immediate link between the acquittal and the Carnival City incident.