Vice officers shut down two underground video poker parlors in Augusta and charged three owners after discovering the illegal game rooms that operated with code words and surveillance cameras, authorities said Tuesday.
Among the regular customers were a retired schoolteacher, two Irish Travelers and a mother-daughter pair, said Investigator Richard Elim, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.
"Most of these people were old, and the (operators) were bleeding them dry," he said.
Police say the operators were exploiting customers, calling them to let them know they were open for business.
After a four-month investigation, vice officers used search warrants June 28 to confiscate 20 machines. The sting led to charges Tuesday against three men on counts of operating commercial gambling establishments, Investigator Elim said.
The two establishments were in two suites in the 100 block of Davis Road and a home in the 300 block of Heath Drive off Berckmans Road. The six customers caught using the machines were given criminal citations for gathering at a gambling house, Investigator Elim said.
Charged with felony commercial gambling and misdemeanor possession of a gambling device were Jackie Ray Lassetter, 58, of Barberry Court, Evans; Jeffery Scott Quarles, 34, of Quinn Drive, Evans; and Matthew L. Hunter, 32, of Verdy Court, Augusta. Police said other arrests are expected.
Police said the operators worked hard to keep the businesses secret, using cameras outside the Davis Road business to see who was knocking.
"They wouldn't let you in unless they knew you," Sgt. Greg Smith said. He said one operator set up a table with cards in a back room. "They told them to run into the back room and act like they were playing cards."
When police arrived at the Davis Road game room, though, the customers did not have time to run from the machines, he said. They were found on stools, sipping soft drinks and smoking cigarettes as they played.
On Friday, officers seized about 4,000 video poker machines from an Augusta warehouse leased by Collins Entertainment Inc. The machines were outlawed July 1, making it illegal to possess them.
In a similar discovery, the Macon (Ga.) Police Department discovered more than 400 illegal machines during a raid Monday on a Collins warehouse.
The machines seized in Macon and Augusta eventually will be destroyed or sold out of the state. Police will hold the machines until a judge issues a condemnation order.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.