Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I am going to tell you all a dirty little secret.

You know those video slot machines in all of the local gas stations and convenience stores? The ones that are usually in the back, under signs that say “We do not pay cash—don’t even ask” or something similar? Those machines can and do profit the establishments that have them upwards of three or four thousand dollars weekly, and guess what, folks? It’s all tax free.

Here’s how it works. Businesses that have the machines generally don’t own them—they are owned by companies who split the profits on a 70/30 basis, with the lion’s share going to the store. As for the law prohibiting cash payouts---it might as well not exist. No cash payouts equals no players. Some store owners even make deliveries to bring players their winnings at home or pay out cash in store restrooms, where they are safe from police videotaping. By law, tickets printed out cannot have amounts of more than five dollars, representing winnings for a single play of the machine, as stated in the Georgia gaming code. The fact is that the game machine companies set the computer to print out whatever they want it to print out. If a player wins a hundred bucks, the machine prints out twenty tickets of five dollars each, thus not breaking any laws on the surface.

Why do these store owners go to lengths to make sure players get their money? Because they want to keep them coming in. It is huge money. Ever see a gas station with no gas, almost empty shelves and five or six game machines? Think candy bars are keeping them in business?

If you ask a gas station or store owner if they pay cash, they will all tell you, “No, it’s against the law.” And I am here to tell you, because I have had the machines in the past, is that they are lying. The players won’t come in if they hear a place isn’t paying cash. When one is able to get the machines, which isn’t easy due to the illegality that surrounds them, you become part of a little clique, and you share info about certain players, like which ones you need to try to attract or who to watch out for.

The dirty little secret is this: Players are throwing their money away. The machines are run by a computer program that is set to “win” about 80 percent of the time, usually only a quarter or 50 cents. Big wins are few and far between. I had several players who lost well over 400 bucks in an hour. One even went out the door complaining that she had just gambled away her light bill and rent money. That was when I decided to get rid of the games. Some people are too simple to understand that they are throwing away their hard earned dough.

A recent police raid on several businesses was laughable. The machines were “seized” and the money in them confiscated. The funny thing was that the seized machines were never seized at all. After a few weeks, notices proclaiming them seized were taken down and the machines went right back into play, with the only effect being that store owners were now more wary about which customers they paid out to. The seized machines from one gas station ended up in my shop, stickers still attached, when management changed hands and the new owners didn’t want those machines in their station. The reason: They had their own.

Butts County: Outlaw those things for the sake of your citizens. You aren’t getting the tax money you should from them anyway; so what is the point?

Two weeks later I wrote the following, after the paper printed some pretty vicious stuff from a reader who apparently took unbrage...

A reader suggested I take a pill to alleviate my anxiety over the illegal use of those nefarious video slot machines [See Tom Eads’ Letter to the Editor; Progress-Argus 3/31/10 - Ed]. I say, “I took a pill, and by golly, nothing changed.”

The machines are still around and the owners of the places that have them---all of them---are still paying cash and running what are essentially illegal gambling establishments, reaping huge profits that don’t get taxed .

After my column on the machines I received a personal visit from a high-ranking local law enforcement official. He was pleased that I had written about the subject and we had a chat about what can be done, including having the establishments declared to be illegal gambling establishments and seizing the entire property and charging a huge fine.

Mr. Eads, in his thoughtful letter, commented that it isn’t the job of government to legislate people’s behavior. And yet, government does indeed do just that---seatbelt laws, speeding laws, drinking laws, and others all are put in place for our own good.

Sociologists will tell you that if people are let loose with no restrictions, bad behavior will increase in intensity and frequency. It is indeed the job of government to look out for those among us who do not know any better.

In my opinion, Butts County is a poor county. The people here, especially African-Americans, seem to live substandard lives when compared to many of the other citizens. I speak on a daily basis with a lot of people, black and white, generally poor, and it is very disheartening to hear their view of life here.

They talk of not having much opportunity to get ahead, given the state of things. So they gamble, hoping for that one-in-a-million big strike. In fact, gambling, whether legal as in the lottery, or illegal, as in those vile machines, seems to be the state sport, given the number of discarded scratchoffs I see blowing around the local landscape.

Money does not flow as freely up north as it does here. It is hard-earned by hard-working people. Money tossed away into gambling machines is making lazy store owners wealthy, to the point that their actual business is neglected. I know this from experience. Located near my place of business is one such establishment. The shelves look like the place was looted and never restocked, gas is often not available and the place teems with the poor and uneducated playing lottery, playing numbers and of course playing, sometimes two at a time, the slot machines.

Why bother actually stocking the shelves or filling the tanks when you can sit back and count the dough thrown away by suckers? When is a gambling establishment not a gambling establishment? When it is wearing a gas station mask.

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