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Macon-Bibb code enforcement finds 143 illegal gambling machines, cites 70 stores

The majority of stores are concentrated in Macon's neighborhoods struck by poverty and violence.

MACON, Ga. — Macon-Bibb County code enforcement officials found dozens of illegal machines in a two-day inspection spree on coin-operated amusement machines, also known as COAMs. 

Code Enforcement director JT Ricketson says his officers branched out across the county, checking 163 stores licensed through the Georgia Lottery Corporation.

Of those, they found 70 in violation of the county's limit.

State law allows for nine coin-operated amusement machines per location, but Macon-Bibb's ordinance limits the number to six.

"We found that 70 of these locations had 1, 2, or 3 extra machines," Ricketson said. 

Overall, Ricketson says they found a total of 143 illegal machines.

"A lot of people look at gambling as a victimless crime, but there are victims in this. There are people that get addicted to gambling, but you also have the other side of it where the families, the mamas, the kids at home, there are no groceries on the table because people get addicted to this," Ricketson said.

"It's a fast way to come up with easy money," said Chad Nelson.

Nelson says he's seen the damage these machines can cause. 

"People waste their hard-earned money on this," Nelson said. "One woman played her income tax check a couple years ago." 

Looking at the list, a majority are concentrated in Macon's neighborhoods struck by poverty and violence. 

Houston Avenue, Mercer University Drive, Shurling Drive, Pio None Avenue, Napier Avenue, Bloomfield Drive, Rocky Creek Road, and the list goes on. 

"When you go to these neighborhoods, you can see long strips of store after store after store that have these COAM machines," Ricketson said. 

Commissioner Virgil Watkins sits on a county committee that studies the impact of COAM machines and works to regulate the industry. 

He says they've found an overwhelming amount of these stores are located in the 31204 and 31206 zip codes.   

Credit: Alex Forbes

"[Stores with coin operated amusement machines] are concentrated primarily in low-income neighborhoods. There's a very interesting correspondence, now that we're putting them on maps next to our housing authority projects," Watkins said. 

"Do you think that's intentional?" 13 WMAZ asked. 

"I think it's intentional," Watkins said. "Gambling is highly-addictive and typically prey on folks that are low-income and looking for hope and opportunities. I think a lot of the gas stations opening up all for the purposes of putting in these machines." 

Ricketson says the next step is to get these cases through municipal court. 

Right now, 20 of the stores have court dates set. 

However, Ricketson says the court system was so overwhelmed by this crackdown that the county is having to wait to set court dates for the 50 other stores. 

Ricketson says it will ultimately be up to a judge to determine what punishment each of these stores face. 

The fine is up to $1,000.