Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke announced Thursday the dismantling of “one of the largest illegal gambling operations in Georgia.”
A $14 civil forfeiture million settlement has been reached with Georgia Atlanta Amusements LLC, its owners and associates, he said.
“With this settlement and the associated criminal prosecution, we’ve shut down a wide-reaching criminal enterprise in an industry that has contributed to violent crime and preyed on low-income residents in our community,” Cooke said at a news conference that was aired on Facebook. “I hope this sends a message to the illegal gambling industry that with each successive prosecution and forfeiture action, the profitability for illegal gambling goes down.
“Sooner or later, they’ll realize there’s no profit in exploiting our citizens for money,” he said.
The dismantling was the result of a multi-jurisdictional investigation into the illegal gambling at convenience stores, including some in Bibb and Peach counties, Cooke said.
Georgia Atlanta Amusements had 650 electronic gambling machines in 130 reportedly legitimate businesses across the state in which customers could illegally gamble to win cash prizes, Cooke said.
“To be legal, the games must require some element of skill for a customer to win,” Cooke said. “Cash payouts are prohibited.”
Georgia Atlanta Amusements allegedly failed to pay required sales and use taxes on about $46 million customers won on the company’s machines, Cooke said.
As a condition of the settlement, Georgia Atlanta Amusements LLC, its owners and associates are barred from owning coin-operated amusement machines, Cooke said.
A judge will determine how the forfeited assets are distributed, with about $3 million expected to go to Georgia Lottery Corporation to help fund HOPE scholarships, Cooke said.
At least $1 million is expected to pay sales and use taxes owed from the illegal operations of the machines in Bibb County, he said.
The bulk of the remaining funds will be distributed among law enforcement agencies and district attorneys’ offices that participated in the case, Cooke said.
Junaid Virani, 38, of Suwanee, who ran Georgia Atlanta Amusements with his family members, pleaded guilty Wednesday to making an illegal cash payout at a Bibb County store in 2018 and received a sentence of one year’s probation, Cooke said.
Charges against his brother, Rohil Virani, 43, were dismissed due to him being in federal custody pending deportation proceedings.
Junaid Virani cooperated with investigation authorities, Cooke said.
Criminal prosecution and civil litigation is pending against other defendants associated with the investigation, Cooke said. Many of the defendants lived in metro-Atlanta area and some are from outside of the U.S.
As of July 2015, all gambling machines in Georgia were connected to a central computer system that records the amounts played and customer winnings.