Sheriff's Dept. raids Woodbine market, confiscates gambling machines; four charged
Whitley County Sheriff's deputies seized $375 cash and nine video gambling machines from the New Friendly Food Mart in Woodbine Wednesday afternoon.
So far four people are facing gambling related charges and the investigation is continuing with more arrests possible, noted Sheriff Colan Harrell.
"I've had several complaints on the machines being here and also the payoffs are not good. They are cheating them even when they win," Harrell said.
"This is something that needs to be done. The individuals, who come in here and play these machines don't have great wealth. They go in here and spend their family food money on these machines. It's not any good."
The store owner, Mahindrakumar Patel, 48, of Williamsburg, and the store manager, Nileshbhai Patel, 35, of Woodbine, were arrested without incident and charged with conspiracy to promote gambling, which is a class 'D' felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Deputies cited two store employees, Dipa Patel, 35, and Pina Patel, 32, who both lived in the store at 40 Highway 26 in Woodbine, with second-degree promoting contraband, which is a misdemeanor offense.
All four cooperated with police during their investigation Wednesday.
Harrell said that there is at least one other person of interest, the owner of the machines, who hasn't been charged so far but may be at a later date.
Police said that there wasn't more money in the machines because the money was emptied the night before.
The investigation was prompted after citizen complaints, which Harrell said have increased in the last month or so.
Recently, two sheriff's department investigators, who posed as customers, went to the store and played the video gambling machines, which were located in a back room in the rear of the store. The room measured about 10' x 12' and smelled of stale cigarette smoke.
A sign posted on a wall in the room states, "Amusement only do not pay cash please," and authorities agree that the store didn't pay people in cash as the sign indicates.
When the two deputies cashed out on the machines, they each took receipts up to the register.
One deputy's total was $19.35, and he was paid with four Wal-Mart gift cards that were supposed to be valued at $5 each.
However, two of the cards proved to be blank so he got shorted $9.35.
Another deputy took a receipt up to the counter valued at $2 and was told by a clerk that they had no gift cards that small. He was told instead to get some store merchandise instead.
After he selected a bottle of Gatorade, he was told it was only $1 and to take two bottles, which is what he did. Deputies said that the two Gatorade bottles are in evidence at the sheriff's department.
In addition to the poker machines and the cash inside, deputies also confiscated seven other Wal-Mart gift cards, which were allegedly used to pay gambling winners. Authorities said that they don't know the value of the seven gift cards.
Harrell admits that Wednesday's raid won't keep people from gambling, which in some form can be done legally a few miles away at Kentucky Off Track Betting.
Two differences are that the gambling at Off Track Betting is regulated in a controlled environment and the proprietors pay taxes on their profits, he said.
"Whenever you have to hide something away like this, you know it is wrong," Harrell said in reference to the video gambling machines.
Harrell said that police would ask the courts for an order to have the machines forfeited and destroyed.
"As far as the money in the machines, it will be up to the courts how they want to award it," he said.
The machines as such aren't illegal as such, but paying customers when they win playing the machines is whether it is in the form of cash, Wal-Mart gift cards or merchandise, Harrell said.
"There is a payoff, which makes the machine illegal in it self," he added.
Officers taking part in the bust Wednesday included: Sheriff Colan Harrell, Chief Deputy K.Y. Fuson, Sgt. Dave Lennon, Deputy Cody Harrell and Deputy Millard Root. Detective Tim Baker also took part in the investigation.
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