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07/30/2016

Gambling machines grabbed at 2 stores

Gambling machines grabbed at 2 stores
       A.J.’s, Mac Minit Mart shut down temporarily as officers take devices

Article and picture contributed by The Journal Record


By ED HOWELL
Assistant News Editor

HAMILTON  - Officers from the Hamilton Police Department, with assistance from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, raided two Hamilton businesses on Friday afternoon, July 22, and confiscated what officers claimed were gambling machines.


Hamilton Police Chief Ronny Vickery, who gave an interview on Monday, July 25, with Marion County Sheriff Kevin Williams, said no arrests had been made in the case, which involved devices taken from Mac’s Minit Mart, a convenience store, and A.J.’s, a tobacco shop, both on Bexar Avenue.


District Attorney Jack Bostick said in a separate phone interview that morning from Double Springs, where he was in court that day, that the machines essentially involved video poker. Vickery said nine different games came come up on a machine.


Bostick, Vickery and Williams said the case remains under investigation and charges could result.


At Mac’s, officers used handtrucks in the sweltering heat to load machines onto a trailer and later carted the machines away. During the raid, officers stopped drivers pulling up to gas pumps or headed inside, saying the store was closed. Assistant District Attorney Paige Vick was also seen at Mac’s Minit Mart.


Vickery, Williams and Bostick said they and Bostick had been getting complaints for several weeks about the machines at both locations. They said that  players would play for hours at the locations, requiring chairs, some of which were confiscated at Mac’s.


Tobacco, cash  redeemed


Williams said the general idea was that token cards were being won from the games which could be redeemed for  merchandise such as gasoline, candy, soft drinks and the like--which is legal. Receipts were printed at Mac’s behind the counter, he noted. From there, token cards were created and given to the customer to redeem for merchandise.


“You’re not supposed to be able to redeem money off of it. They’re not supposed to be able to purchase tobacco or alcohol from it,” Vickery said.


Vickery said he told an investigator to check out the situation, which he did. Vickery then went to Bostick’s office on how to approach the case. In a meeting, it was determined the offense was a misdemeanor--but they wanted to see how far the operation was going.


“So we got a retired undercover agent to come in. The District Attorney’s Office furnished him with the money to go play with the machines for two or three rounds over a two- or three-week period,” Vickery said.


Bostick said the undercover investigator, who did go to the businesses and played the machines, had experience investigating gambling operations throughout Alabama.  


The agent came back with cards from Mac’s in the rear of the store, where three machines were located. Vickery said there was no need to even play two of another three machines in the front of the store.


“The gaming machines up front were illegal at face value, because they were quarter sliders,” he said. “You put a quarter in taking the chance to win more quarters, and it pays out in quarters. That is illegal at face value.” 


A.J.’s had three machines in the back and one up front, as well as a scratch-off game, Vickery said. That store had a token machine, a quarter slider and two other gaming machines.


Investigator bought cigarettes with card


At Mac’s, Vickery said the investigator was told he had won $10, which was placed on a gift card, and was told he could purchase merchandise. The investigator purchased cigarettes on the card, which was illegal, noting cigarettes and alcohol are individually regulated.


Vickery said A.J.’s actually paid out in cash. If a player had nine credits, he got $9, if he was playing a dollar machine, he said.


At A.J.’s, you could also purchase tokens, play the token machine, take the tokens won in the end and then redeem them for cash, he said.


Vickery said officials met with the information obtained from the investigator and decided to obtain a search warrant for the businesses. With two of his police investigators out of pocket for the day of the search, Vickery asked Williams if he could provide  two of his investigators and equipment to move the machines.


The raid was made simultaneously. A team executed the search warrant at Mac’s Minit Mart and placed it on lockdown while the search warrant was executed at A.J.’s, he said. With A.J.’s being a smaller operation with fewer machines, that search was conducted first, locking it down for about an hour.


After officers were done there, they  executed the search warrant at Mac’s, which was closed for a total of about two hours to 2 1/2 hours, he said. The stores then opened without the machines.


Vickery said the machines  are in a lock-up storage facility, although he would not disclose where.


Cash, other items confiscated


Williams said about $3,000 was confiscated from all the gaming machines, while Vickery said monitors and cables used for monitoring the machines were also taken by authorities. Receipts were also confiscated.


The store managers were receiving a percentage on the take of the machines, Vickery said.
“I think they get 10 (percent) off the machines and 50 (percent) off the quarters,” he said, noting that should be the same at both locations. “We think (machines at) both of them were obtained from the same person.” 


Bostick said that the percentages are based on what the distributor offers to business owners, noting the business is done usually on a territorial basis and the distributor would have this territory to cover.


Vickery said the distributor will be allowed to come to the condemnation hearings for the machines. If the distributor does not, then the judge could order the machines to be destroyed.


However, the distributor will not face criminal charges, as they sell the machine as being used for entertainment purposes only, to swap out for merchandise.


“They know it is not just entertainment. It is just a matter of having to prove what is in their head and what they are saying,” he said. “That’s where they break away and it goes to the civil side with them in keeping their machines, because if they lose their machines, they are losing ‘x’ amount of dollars plus the proceeds they could generate.”


The charge that could result out of the case would be possession of gaming machines to promote gambling, Vickery said--which, he added, could fall on the store manager, as they are performing the transaction.


“They are the hands-on person,” he said, noting that is why an undercover person was needed.


Vickery did note that none of the machines had city permits, as he said they should have.
He said the difference of this case with the Chuck E. Cheese laws would be that under that law, there one turns in tickets for novelty trinkets without any value or anything to redeem for cash.


Lawmen want to avoid Walker County situation


As for what statement the raid makes for the public, Williams said, “First of all, we both have a duty and obligation to enforce the law--any law and any gaming law. What I don’t want to see is what has been happening in Walker County for the last several years. We’re not going to have that here in Marion County, Ronny and I both.”


“We fought it when Walker County had it,” Vickery injected, referring to electronic bingo machines and other related gambling machines that have been in the county.


Williams said, “Our opinion is that we don’t want it to spread. This was just a start. It has been going on for several months.” While he said it only involved misdemeanor crimes, “we’re going to put a stop to this as soon as we have knowledge of it” to prevent it spreading among business owners.


Vickery said the owners of the machines are from Montgomery and Atlanta, Ga., and do not care about the impact they have on the community.


Vickery, Williams and Bostick said they did not know of any other businesses in the county with similar machines, nor were the machines involved in this case dealing with electronic bingo.


The Hamilton police chief said his interest was in “getting these machines out of here.” He, Williams and Bostick also noted the investigation and prosecution of gaming machines has been taken away from the attorney general by Gov. Robert Bentley and given to the local level.

Machines a topic again in Walker County

Gaming machines have become a major topic again in Walker County. The Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper reported on July 21 that the Walker County Commission is researching the collection of business license revenue from electronic gaming machines. Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood has told commissioners he has not seized machines there as they could be legal under the Chuck E. Cheese laws, which allow games of skill, not chance.
The Eagle reported businesses are operating under a bingo ordinance approved by the Carbon Hill City Council in February. The city collects revenue through business licenses, a weekly bingo license fee of $250 per week and an annual machine stamp fee of $100 per machine. As of July 7, there were four businesses with gaming machines operating in Carbon Hill and fees had been paid for 111 machines.


However, Bostick said his office will be aggressive against gaming machines, noting that, unlike Walker County, Marion County never passed any bingo statute which some have tried over the years to bring bingo machines under.


“We never got a charity bingo statute passed in Marion or Winston County, so we go after these machines,” he said.


The Eagle recently noted that in 2009, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. ruled that electronic bingo games within Walker County were not legal under a 1993 constitutional amendment that allowed charity bingo.

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 Marion County Chief Deputy Jeff Davis and sheriff’s department narcotics officer Chris Sims cart away what law enforcement authorities said were gaming machines from Mac’s Minit Mart in Hamilton on Friday, July 22. Hamilton police officer Jordan Carter looks on during the raid, which temporarily closed down the store.

 

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 These are some of the gaming machines that were put on a trailer to be taken away by law enforcement from Mac’s Minit Mart in Hamilton on Friday, July 22. Law enforcement said quarter machines, token machines and other gaming machines were taken away. Machines were also taken away from A.J.’s, a tobacco store down the street, as a result of search warrants for the businesses.

 

 

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