Warner Robins may crack down on gaming machines

WARNER ROBINS — The city of Warner Robins is looking at revamping its gaming machine ordinances.

The only thing the city’s ordinance regulates is the number of machines a business can have, Warner Robins police Lt. Lance Watson said.

Watson said it’s evident the city needs to do more because some businesses are illegally paying out cash in lieu of services and products as dictated by state law. Also, complaints are increasing as citizens notice more machines moving into more convenience stores and gift shops.

“It’s beginning to look more obvious,” Watson said.

Also, Watson said the machines often attract other illegal activity. Businesses containing the machines are increasingly becoming targets for robberies.

“The criminals know they have money,” Watson said.

Watson said a new ordinance should look at defining a location within a business where the machines can be kept. Watson said often machines are kept in a back room out of sight, where other illegal activity takes place such as smoking inside a building. He added another focus should include creating distance requirements from churches and schools.

“We’re just trying to put more teeth in the ordinance.”

During the April term of the Houston County Superior Court, 12 individuals from five businesses were indicted for commercial gambling. The establishments involved were Danfair Express; Express Stop; Friendly Foods; Gifts, Variety and More; and Rocky’s Food Mart.

District Attorney Kelly Burke said of the estimated 2,100 cases that come through his office a year, only about 25 involve the machines. In most cases, he said efforts are made to negotiate before going to trial.

“We try to focus on getting a resolution that puts operators out of the video gambling business,” Burke said.

Burke also noted that court decisions about the machines are also playing a big role.

The 2nd District of the Georgia Court of Appeals issued an opinion Thursday stating that a person cannot win more than $5 during a single play.

Burke said he would suggest to the city creating a portion of the ordinance mandating a prominent sign be placed stating the $5 per play law. Burke said he has seen someone in Houston County receive an award of $11,000.

“That may change people’s willingness to play,” Burke said. “That could change everything.”

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.