Patrons arriving at some local area convenience stores may be surprised to find them closed, chained and padlocked. Around 7:30 PM on February 28th, law enforcement officers of the Butts County Sheriff’s Office, working under the command of Sheriff Gary Long and in concert with the District Attorney’s Office, executed search warrants on seven convenience stores located in Butts County and the City of Jackson. The warrants were issued as a result of numerous complaints received by Sheriff Long and a detailed investigation of the complaints. He cited instances where some people were gambling their entire paychecks on the machines and that some stores were set up mainly for this kind of illegal business. The core of the problem is one that is becoming more and more common in Georgia: video gambling.
Video gambling machines are common in many convenience stores and persons who win usually receive a voucher good for merchandise in the store. What is happening more and more is that stores are actually paying winners in cash, which in Georgia is considered illegal gambling.
Sheriff’s Office personnel arrived in teams at each location simultaneously. Each store searched was found to have video gaming machines in place and undercover operations conducted over the past few weeks had confirmed that cash payouts were taking place.
The stores that were raided include:
- Jackson 76 Station on Third Street at Holly Street
- Peachtree BP on Third Street at Peachtree
- Citgo at Brookwood Avenue and Paul Maddox Road
- Bob’s Mini Mart on Second Street
- Halls Bridge Chevron on Halls Bridge Road
- 7-11-10 Food Mart on Macon Avenue at Indian Springs Street
- Express Foods at Highway 36 and I-75
A total of 38 machines were seized including a large quantity of cash, a stolen firearm and some drugs. District Attorney Richard Milam, who quantified the problem as “small time organized crime” stated that all store owners will be required to appear in Superior Court before Judge Tommy Wilson on March 20th to answer the charges. Until then, all seven locations will remain padlocked and off-limits to anyone. “The community doesn’t need things like this going on” said Milam. “That money that was gambled away could have been used to pay legitimate bills but instead it went to fund other things. If anything, the legitimate businesses who are operating the way they are supposed to should benefit by the elimination of unfair competition”.
The problem is a growing one in Georgia. In just the past 48 hours alone, similar raids have taken place in both Richmond County and Muscogee County, even as the Georgia Legislature is looking at a bill spearheaded by Governor Nathan Deal that would put the video machines that offer prizes under the purview of the Georgia Lottery.
Representative Matt Ramsey, a Republican from Peachtree City told WSB News just an hour before the Butts County raid that “We’re going to actually ensure that they’re complying with the law and operating within the boundaries we’ve set up and not operating casinos out of the back of gas station,”