AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

GBI illegal gambling sweep focuses on one licensee

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday another sweep of businesses for allegedly violating the state's commercial gaming laws.

More than 75 GBI agents and local police officers served search warrants on 15 businesses and one home in Macon, LaGrange, Savannah, Warner Robbins and Sasser, a tiny town outside of Albany. The sting targeted alleged misuse of coin-operated amusement (COAM) machines -- machines sometimes mislabeled as video poker machines and often located in convenience stores.

State law allows the games, but jackpots can only be redeemed for store merchandise, gas or lottery tickets.

Such raids are not uncommon in the industry, which is now regulated by the Georgia Lottery. This one, however, centered on a single company that provided all of the machines to the stores that were raided.

Sudama Resorts, a Forest Park-based company, is the master license holder for all of the machines involved in alleged cash payouts.

"Undercover operations revealed cash payouts were taking place at over 25 percent of locations statewide where Sudama Resorts, Inc. is contracted to place COAM machines," the GBI said in a release.

An official with the GBI said he did not have a total on the number of arrests but said multiple arrests are in the works.

Sudama was formed in 2003 and has about 1,650 machines licensed by the state. The license holders are Sandip and Rohini Patel, according to records examined by The AJC.

In the wake of the raids, the Bibb County district attorney announced Wednesday he was filing a racketeering lawsuit against Sudama, The Macon Telegraph reports.

The COAM industry has existed in the shadows of Georgia law for more than a decade since Gov. Roy Barnes attempted to outlaw the machines. Two years ago, state lawmakers, urged by gambling lobbyists, passed legislation regulating the industry and moving it under the Lottery, which they said would force out bad actors.

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Joyner’s column, AJC Watchdog, investigates topics in your community and Georgia.