Georgia Authorities Continue to Monitor Amusement Machines ‘Across the State’ Illegally Paying Out Cash
Posted on: July 3, 2019, 02:00h.
Last updated on: July 2, 2019, 05:18h.
Coin-operated amusement machines (COAMs) found in many convenience stores and gas stations in the Peach State are getting scrutinized by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for illegally paying out cash to winners.
Under state law, retail stores can offer COAMs. But they can only pay winners in lottery tickets and store credits — never in cash.
“It’s happening all across the state and GBI’s not the only one working it,” Cindy Ledford, lead investigator of the GBI Commercial Gambling Unit, recently told Georgia’s WTGS TV about the illegal activity.
A large number of the stores pay out cash on the machines,” Eric Groh, president of the Georgia Council on Problem Gambling, further told the TV station.
“Gamblers that I talk with, seeking help with machines, report that they can go to most stores and get cash payout,” Groh claims.
The legal machines, which pay out in store credits or lottery tickets, are popular in the state. Statewide, in 2018, some $2.5 billion dollars were put into video slot machines. Patrons won $1.8 billion worth of credits.
In 2018, $58 million of the legal revenue went for Georgia schools, as required under state law. It is uncertain how much was illegally paid out to patrons in cash at the convenience stores.
Arrests Made, Gaming Machines Seized
In May and June, two Milledgeville business owner/operators were arrested following an investigation into illegal commercial gambling at convenience stores in the region, the Union-Recorder newspaper reported.
Authorities also searched five retail stores and the home where one of the suspects lives. Police seized an unspecified amount of cash, financial records, and 30 coin-operated gaming machines, the report said.
The machines had payed winners in cash, according to Ron Braxley, special assistant agent in-charge of the GBI Gambling Unit.
Shivani Patel, 33, and Kushal Patel, 42, both of Milledgeville, were charged with a felony count of commercial gambling, the newspaper reported, citing a GBI media release. Additional arrests are pending, state authorities add.
The new charges follow arrests in 2017 which led Georgia authorities to shut down an alleged gambling operation in a convenience store. The Marietta Police Department arrested three men for allegedly running an illegal gambling enterprise at Gantt Foods.
It featured coin-based slot machines that allegedly provided cash winnings. Police seized 15 coin-operated amusement slot machines, $250,000 in cash, a large bag of jewelry, eight computers, and five luxury vehicles.
State Legislators Resist Legal Casino Gambling
The state has repeatedly considered allowing land-based gaming venues. But legislative proposals fail to get approval.
One gambling bill, introduced in 2016 and 2017 by state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), called for the construction of two casino resorts in Georgia.
Earlier this year, another bill that would have allowed horse racing in Georgia was proposed by Sen. Beach. It would have authorized up to three racetracks in the state and created a five-member Gambling Commission, which would award contracts for the tracks to investors.
Still, another proposal has come from Georgia state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) to allow for three integrated resorts in the state. His proposal would have allowed state residents to vote on whether to amend the constitution to legalize casino gambling.
A 2017 poll published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 56 percent of likely voters would support casinos. Last August, University of Georgia professor of political science Charles Bullock told BisNow that public resistance to legal gambling in Georgia has been subsiding ever since voters narrowly authorized the state’s lottery in 1992.
If a casino were ever allowed in Atlanta, large gaming companies interested in getting a license include Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Penn National Gaming, Golden Nugget and Boyd Gaming.
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