Georgia Lottery to increase inspections of state’s gambling industry

The Georgia Lottery announced a new effort Wednesday to police the state’s gambling industry, saying it will work with the state’s Sheriffs’ Association to conduct more frequent business inspections.

What are officially known in Georgia as coin-operated “amusement” machines have been the bane of law enforcement for decades. Only two years ago did lawmakers try to force them into a compliance by creating new regulations meant to clean up the industry.

That new system was fully phased in as of July, when a new centralized data reporting system began completely tracking revenue from each of the more than 25,000 machines in the state. Other new measures include making machine owners and operators pass background checks to get licensed; a central accounting system keeps track of machine revenues; and beefed-up enforcement limits payouts to $5 in credits for merchandise.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson, president of the sheriffs’ association, said in a statement that deputies viewed the increased effort as part of their duty to protect the public and increase visibility in the community. Lottery officials said the increased inspections would begin Sept. 1, with initial checks in northwest Georgia and other select areas of the state.

Georgia only has 10 inspectors to check on the more than 5,000 Georgia gas stations, convenience stores, coin laundries and American Legion posts licensed to operate the machines. Some of those operators are adept at dodges, Lottery Corp. officials say. As fast as a store owner might be banned for cash payouts, for example, he may have a relative or friend reapply for a license.

An investigation earlier this year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found convicted felons who hold coveted master licenses — state authority to actually own the machines and lease them to businesses.

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