At a gas station on Austell Road, a line of video gambling machines displays a colorful spinning reel. The demonstration video on the machines shows three “BAR” symbols lining up. The word “jackpot” appears on the screen in large, capital letters.
But the only jackpots these machines are supposed to give out are lotto tickets, free replays and store merchandise worth less than $5, according to state law. Giving out cash prizes for video gambling devices is illegal.
“I get people coming in all the time asking if I pay cash,” said the owner of the station. “I always say no. It’s not worth it. I don’t want to go to jail. You can get lottery tickets or you can get gas.”
The owner did not want to give his name because he said he did not want to be associated with operations that do not play by the rules.
He was referring to a recent case in which three men were arrested on charges of allegedly running illegal gambling operations out of convenience stores on Franklin Gateway and Windy Hill Road in Marietta.
According to warrants, Khubaib Hussain, the owner of Gantt Foods on Franklin Gateway, operated the two locations, and Arif Muhammad and Samson Beye handed out the cash.
Other owners of gas stations in Marietta and Smyrna said they could not or did not want to speak on the record about gaming machines. Some said they only gave out lottery tickets as prizes, others also offered gas, but they all said they never give out money.
The MDJ looked at machines at 12 convenience stores. All had inspection stickers from the Georgia Lottery Corporation, and they all had stickers advertising a helpline for those with gambling addiction.
The Georgia Lottery began regulating what they call Coin Operated Amusement Machines, or COAMS, in 2013.
In addition to posting the stickers on their machines, owners of COAMs in the state must pay a licensing fee, and all machines need to be connected to a central accounting system to ensure they are being used properly.
Warrants allege Hussain operated at least 14 COAMs outside of compliance with the state regulations at the two locations.
Marietta police said the investigation into the operation began as an investigation into drug trafficking in mid-2014. It since expanded into an operation involving the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the department of revenue and Cobb and Douglas County Police Departments.
On Feb. 13, officers served warrants on the stores and Hussain’s home in Douglasville, seizing $250,000 in cash, a large tote full of gold jewelry, eight computers, one cellphone and five high-end vehicles.
In a post on his law firm’s website, criminal defense attorney Sandy Wallack of Wallack Law said paying out cash for COAM games can incur harsh penalties, including seizure of cash and bank accounts as well as revocation of the owner’s lottery license and privileges.
“While there are a plethora of ways you can violate Georgia law and/or (Georgia Lottery Company) rules and regulations pertaining to COAMs, the cardinal sin remains paying cash as a reward for successful play of a COAM,” Wallack wrote.
The three men arrested in connection with the recent case are currently out on bond; Beye and Muhammad’s bonds were set at $2,970 each, and Hussain’s was $38,720.
Marietta Police said the investigation was ongoing and could involve charges of money laundering.