Updated:LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. —
A Channel 2 Action News investigation helped prompt a raid of several illegal gambling operations in Gwinnett County.
Channel 2's first investigation into gambling machines with cash payouts back in 1999 prompted the state to make them illegal.
Channel 2's John Bachman found out that more than 10 years later, it is still going on in back rooms all over the area.
The recent debate over legal gambling in Georgia is putting these machines back in the spotlight. Not only are the cash payouts from these machines illegal, but taxpayers are losing out on millions in tax revenue.
Gwinnett County officers raided a location in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Thursday after a Channel 2 Action News investigation revealed illegal cash payouts happening there.
Undercover cameras caught rows of video slot machines with patrons seated for hours, hoping for that coveted cash payout.
Channel 2 sent two undercover producers into three locations in Lawrenceville, and they were paid cash at each location.
Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes pushed for legislation to ban video gambling machines in 1999. The law banning the machines went into effect in 2002.
"I have difficulty with the state allowing its citizens to be victimized by all of this," said Barnes.
Barnes immediately pushed legislation to ban video poker and slot machines because he said it was harming families and creating gambling addicts.
"Husbands would stop at a convenience store where this was going on, cash a check and then go home, not having anything when the odds are stacked against you," said Barnes.
"In your mind, you believe that, 'This is going to happen, because I put so much money in there. It’s got to give me something back, right?'" said Sherri Ulcak, a former video gambler.
Ulckac said she lost more than $100,000 to video slot machines over the past few years.
Georgia is considering legal casino gambling that would rake in millions of tax dollars for the state. Right now, all of the profits made in the back rooms of convenience stores go untaxed.
The illegal backroom operations have copied legal casinos with incentives to keep patrons gambling.
"You go into the store, you can eat anything you want, you can drink anything you want," said Ulcak.
At one location, Channel 2 undercover producers were offered alcohol to keep them playing.
"If you do hit, they pay you right away," said Ulcak.
At one location on Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville, the store manager did just that. She opened up the machines to collect the cash and pay players. That is a tactic that Eric Cochling of the Georgia Family Council said store owners use to keep players hooked.
"Video terminals that are really like slot machines, those are three times more addictive than your typical table games like blackjack, and [that is] because they offer immediate rewards," said Cochling. "The whole experience is intended to keep people there as long as possible until they actually run out of money."
Barnes said the anti-gambling law has been altered dramatically. He said legislators watered down the law, making it harder for law enforcement to crack down.
"We have casino gambling in Georgia, unregulated and apparently authorized by the General Assembly," said Barnes.
After Channel 2 producers received several illegal cash payouts in several different locations across metro Atlanta, Channel 2 showed that video to Gwinnett County police investigators, and they launched their own investigation and executed a search warrant Thursday.
Officers moved in to Mike's Mexican Grill in Lawrenceville after seeing Channel 2’s footage.
"We had an undercover investigator come in and play on these machines, several of the machines and did receive cash payouts," said Lt. Chris Long of the Gwinnett County Police Department.
"This is a fairly typical setup where you'll have four to six machines. Sometimes they are out in the open, sometimes they are behind a wall or in a completely different room," said Long.
"When you are ready to cash out, hit the ticket and then cash out. Then from the machine, they have a printer and receiver on this end ... It prints out a ticket, and they will pay out from the register," Long told Channel 2.
Officers found several people gambling when they entered. Two admitted to gambling and receiving cash payouts.
One woman was arrested because, according to Gwinnett County officers, she paid patrons multiple cash payouts.
When the owner arrived, officers arrested him.
A Channel 2 producer asked him about WSB-TV's undercover video and cash payouts to which he replied, "Nope, nope. You got the wrong person ... I don't know. I don't know, nothin' about that. No comment, thank you," said the owner, who calls himself Mike.
In the raid, officers arrested four people on gambling-related charges and confiscated hundreds of dollars.