Originally created 08/11/00

Police confiscate poker machines



Think of it as sweeps week for the Columbia County Sheriff's Department.

Deputies confiscated more than 50 video poker machines - including Cherry Masters, Georgia Redemption Machines and Treasure Chests - during checks of local businesses late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

"A lot of the people who are running the businesses don't own the machines," said Lt. Clay Smith of the Columbia County Sheriff's Department. "A couple of them were like, `I'm glad you got them out, because we've had nothing but trouble with them.'ƒ"

The "sweep" came just hours after District Attorney Danny Craig vowed to fight the video poker industry in the Augusta area. Columbia County deputies checked more than 50 local businesses, ranging from restaurants to convenience stores.

Now the machines, their screens blank and each marked with evidence tags, sit in a warehouse off Washington Road.

Deputies seized machines from 13 businesses, including about 20 from D's Collectables on Bobby Jones Expressway. Deputies also have issued three citations to businesses for selling alcohol for on-site consumption and housing the machines in the same building.

Lt. Smith said the checks should have eliminated most of the machines in the county.

"The people we've taken them from, we've advised them that they need to contact Danny Craig's office," he said.

What makes the machines illegal, Mr. Craig said, is the elimination of skill from playing the games.

"Video poker does not involve any degree of skill other than the desire and intelligence it takes to gamble, and that is exactly what is prohibited by the statute," he said.

He's also focusing on eliminating machines stored in the Augusta area, including the machines in the old Woolworth's building at Eighth and Broad streets in downtown Augusta.

"Possession of video poker machine is as illegal as possession of a slot machine," he said.

One challenge officials are placing is deciding which machines are legal in Georgia.

"There's really not a list," Mr. Craig said. "To the extent that people are operating machines that for the most part or entirely involve matters of chance as opposed to skill then that is a risk they run. And that is something they have to defend the legality of this in court."

But there are some guidelines for legal machines. First, the machines have to be approved by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and have some internal modification - a free spin option installed - Mr. Craig said.

But there's also another catch: the location of the machines. Any business can't make more than 50 percent of its income from games rather than sales of other food or other merchandise.

Raided businesses

Columbia County deputies seized machines at the following businesses:

D's Collectables, Bobby Jones Expressway

Rack and Grill, Old Petersburg Road

Speedway, Belair Road and I-20

Holiday Market, Columbia Road

Holiday Market, Belair Road

Exxon, Washington Road at North Belair Road

Exxon, Belair and I-20

Allen's Country Store, Washington Road

Finish Line Cafe, Belair Road

VFW, Wrightsboro Road

Amoco, Lewiston Road and I-20

Backyard Tavern, Belair Road

American Legion, off Washington Road

Columbia County deputies cited the following businesses for having the machines and serving alcohol:

Rack and Grill, Old Petersburg Road

VFW, Wrightsboro Road

American Legion, off Washington Road

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.