Dozens of video gaming machines were carted out of Baldwin County convenience stores Monday in raids that concluded a three-month investigation.
Sheriff Bill Massee said deputies obtained 63 arrest warrants for 16 people on felony and misdemeanor gambling charges. Fifteen of the people had been arrested by late Monday afternoon.
Search warrants were served at nine stores Monday, and 47 gambling machines were seized, along with what deputies believe to be proceeds from the gambling, Massee said.
During Baldwin deputies’ investigation, undercover officers visited each store in the county that they knew had gambling machines. Some of the stores paid out winnings in cash or lottery tickets, which is illegal, Massee said. Many stores paid only in coupons or store merchandise, which is legal.
Deputies launched the investigation after the sheriff’s office received multiple complaints from family members, saying that their loved ones were losing money gambling on the machines.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of complaints,” Massee said. “We have had families who have members who have lost up to $25,000. That’s a lot of money, especially in this economy.”
Massee likened the addictive nature of the gambling machines to crack cocaine.
“They get addicted to them and can’t pay the mortgage,” he said.
Phone calls to five of the stores went unanswered Monday. Messages left at four stores were not returned.
Massee said the Georgia Department of Revenue is reviewing business and alcohol licenses held by stores with alleged gambling violations.
Officers with the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force assisted in the investigation.
Telegraph writer Liz Fabian contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.