Appeals court overturns commercial gambling conviction in Captain Jack’s Crab Shack case

The commercial gambling conviction last year of Ronald D. Bartlett, proprietor of Captain Jack’s Crab Shack in Byron, was overturned Tuesday by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Bartlett, who was 73 when he was convicted in February 2018, had been sentenced to serve two years in prison and three years probation, but Tuesday’s decision closes the case against him. Bartlett served about a month behind bars last year before he was granted bond while the case was appealed.

The now-shuttered eatery on Chapman Road along Interstate 75 was the focus of a 2015 police investigation into illegal-gaming allegations. The restaurant did have gaming machines, but such machines are extensively-regulated devices allowed under Georgia law. Making cash payouts is not legal, however, but that was not what Bartlett was charged with.

At trial in Peach County Superior Court, Bartlett was found guilty of one count of commercial gambling, one count of possession of a gambling device and one count of keeping a gambling place. On appeal, he asserted that the trial court erred, in part, by not excluding certain evidence. The appeals court, in its Tuesday ruling, declared “we find the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support his convictions.”

One of Bartlett’s lawyers, Macon attorney Charles E. Cox, said Wednesday that the prosecutors’ theory at trial was that because allegedly cash payouts had been made to winning patrons who played the machines, that the devices, which were legitimate coin-operated amusement machines, should automatically be considered “gambling machines.”

The appeals court rejected that contention.

“There was insufficient evidence to even let the case go to the jury, because there was no evidence that he had any gambling machines,” Cox said.

Ronald D. Bartlett’s attorney Tom Jarrel, right, speaks with some of Barlett’s employees Thursday inside the Peach County courtroom after the bond hearing. Orville Newlin, second from left, is the manager of Captain Jack’s Crab Shack, Bartlett’s business that was closed Wednesday after a gambling raid. Bartlett’s conviction was overturned by an appeal’s court on Tuesday, June 26, 2019.

“The law provides a specific penalty for paying cash out,” Cox added. “There is a misdemeanor statute that governs that, and the state could have elected to try him on that. They did not. Instead, they wanted to try him on a felony and there wasn’t evidence to support it.”

Another of Bartlett’s lawyers, Chris Anulewicz of Atlanta, described Tuesday’s ruling: “The court of appeals said basically that under no set of circumstances did Ronnie Bartlett commit a crime.”

Anulewicz said the case cost Bartlett “his entire livelihood and entire business — it’s going to be millions and millions of dollars. ... We’re certainly going to look to have him compensated” through a federal lawsuit.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.