The only difference? They’re not supposed to walk away with cash winnings, no matter how lucky they’re feeling.
The Quick Pick Food Mart, a small building encircled by the Fair Oaks Mobile Home Park, offers four electronic gambling machines in a back corner where players pump in dollar bills for a chance to win credits toward items sold on store shelves.
However, an employee of Quick Pick was arrested July 26 after police say he gave undercover officers cash in exchange for a winning ticket.
According to Georgia State Code, licensed electronic gaming machines are legal only if the payout is in free replays or store merchandise, not including firearms, alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.
The electronic machines use touch-screen displays that mimic a slot machine’s spinning Lucky 7 images or themes like leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.
Any employee who offers a cash payment, or the owner of the establishment where this exchange occurs, can be charged with commercial gambling, a felony, and a misdemeanor for keeping a gambling place.
The punishment for a conviction can be one to five years in prison or a fine of up to $20,000, with the potential for store owners to lose their liquor license or authorization as a retailer of the Georgia Lottery.
Organized crime busts
Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in his nine months as D.A., his office has not taken a gambling case to trial. In fact, 90 percent of the cases are resolved with a plea deals resulting in probation time.
Reynolds said there has not been a push to address organized crime in the area, with fewer than 10 locations busted so far this year.
On July 30, in a Shell gas station at the corner of Six Flags Drive and Blair Bridge Road, Imran Ashraf Rana, of Austell, is accused of paying an undercover police officer $30 out of a cigar box from under the store’s register in exchange for “winnings,” according to the warrant.
Although Rana, as an employee, committed the offense, owner Muna Rajab Ali, of Austell, was present and “did allow gambling to openly occur,” according to accusations made in the warrant.
In another incident Aug. 23, Ali paid $30 in cash from the back office to an undercover officer.
When the officer “pressed the ‘ticket’ button on the electronic video gambling machine … a ticket printed out behind the register with the credit/money amount posted,” the warrant stated.
The Sept. 5 arrest has kept Ali in the Cobb County jail for nearly a month for issues with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Rana was released the next day on a $6,500 bond.
Placing a bet
Reynolds said complaints from the public can trigger an investigation of a convenience store by the organized crime unit of the Marietta-Cobb-Smyrna Task Force that has 10 to 12 officers and two prosecutors dedicated to the cases.
The unit is a multi-jurisdictional task force formed in 1980.
During the investigations, undercover officers develop relationships with the owners and clerks to see if infractions are occurring. Officers try to document at least three violations of illegal gambling to establish a pattern, Reynolds said.
“That may take a week, it may take a month,” Reynolds said.
Down Atlanta Road from the Quick Pick Food Mart, a large Chevron gas station next to a Laundromat offers a venue to play four electronic gambling machines.
Tanner Bertram, who has worked at the store for four to five months, said it is typically low-income customers that press their luck at the machines.
When asked why these customers are attracted to the interactive games, Bertram said, “I think they just like to gamble.”
As a cashier, Bertram said he exchanges tickets with points for groceries, gas or lottery tickets priced at $1, $2 or $5.
A customer who is caught gambling would also be charged with a misdemeanor.
Reynolds said this type of non-violent offense was created by the state Legislature, which also dictates the parameters on the type of punishment.
“We are in a position where it has to be enforced,” Reynolds said.