By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Gambling in Bulloch? - Part Two
Video poker machines are seen above. It is against Bulloch County law to have the machines – which county leaders consider gambling – on premises where alcohol is sold. But four of the stores still operate machines, and at least one store owner has said he plans to give up his alcohol license in favor of keeping the video gaming machines. - photo by HOLLI DEAL BRAGG/staff
    (This is the second of two stories about a local law enforcement crackdown on video machines at convenience stores in Bulloch County.)

     After Bulloch County attorney Charles Brown issued letters earlier this year to store owners regarding possible violations of a county ordinance governing video gaming machines, five of the nine convenience stores that had the machines removed them.
    It is against Bulloch County law to have the  machines – which county leaders consider gambling – on premises where alcohol is sold. But four of the stores still operate machines, and at least one store owner has said he plans to give up his alcohol license in favor of keeping the video gaming machines.
    PoJo's Gas & Go owners Phillip and Perry Sumner apparently have already removed the alcohol from the store located on U.S. 301 South near Interstate-16, according to Bulloch County Commissioner Robert Rushing, who went to the store after a neighbor complained to him about the county ordinance.
    Rushing, who lives near PoJo's, said a neighbor called to question the ordinance after going to the store  to purchase beer. When Rushing stopped by the store the next day,  "I looked, and  the beer is gone," he said.
    Rushing said no one told him the Sumners were removing alcohol so they could keep the machines, but Bulloch County Sheriff's Chief Investigator Capt. Todd Hutchens said Thursday one of  the Sumner brothers told him that was their intention.
    "The store owners actually told me that"  on Feb. 13, he said. "He said he was going to give up the alcohol license to comply with their interpretation of the ordinance."
    Bulloch County Clerk Maggie Fitzgerald said Thursday the Sumners had not yet surrendered their license nor told her of their intent to do so.
    But whether an establishment has an alcohol license or not, "if the machines are used for  gambling, they are in violation of the law," Hutchens said.
Stores with gaming machines
   After receiving an initial warning letter from Brown, the following stores that had the machines got rid of them: Mill Creek Food Mart on Ga. 24; Ace Stop & Go on U.S. 80 East at Burkhalter Road;  El Cheapo on U.S. 301 South in Register; Quick Stop on  Ga. 67  near Joe Hodges Hill and Lakeview Mart on Lakeview Road,
    But as of Friday, the following stores still had the machines: Fast Stop on U.S. 80 East near the Grove Lakes subdivision; PoJo's Gas & Go; Mini Mart #3 on Ga. 67 near Interstate 16 and the Eldora Pennysaver on Eldora Road, according to Bulloch County Sheriff's Inv. Jared Akins. Akins gave Bulloch County Commissioners a presentation about the video issue during Tuesday's county commission meeting.
    One store, Fast Stop, took machines from the convenience store portion  of the building, added to their number, and placed them in a "gift shop" next door, Hutchens said.
    The windows of the gift shop are covered in black blinds; the only way one can see into the store is through the door. No signs advertising the shop were visible Tuesday night.
    Inside, the store has a couple shelves and is sparsely stocked with novelty items and clothing such as tee shirts and caps. A young man sat behind a counter while patrons walked past him into a back room.
    Inside the back room were signs advertising what one could exchange credits won from the video gaming machines. A can of soda could be had for $2 worth of credit; a small stuffed animal could be received for $10 in credit from the machines. A jackpot of $100 credit would get a winner a lap top computer, said the sign. Another sign read: NO CASH PAYOUTS.
    Brown told commissioners Tuesday that any payout of more than $5 in value is a felony offense, according to state law. Cash payouts are prohibited in any amount, he said.
    A visitor only had to feed money into the machine, choose a game, and touch the "play button" on the screen. Like a slot machine, but without a handle, the screen displayed three sections where symbols spun around quickly, then stopped. If three symbols matched, the player won that game. A player had a choice to alter one section in an attempt to line up matching symbols.
    The gaming machines offered a player the option to use the credits won to play more games.
    As about seven people sat quietly, feeding cash into the machines, no one spoke. The tenant who had been behind  the counter in the room where the merchandise was displayed entered the back room and asked "anybody need anything - a drink?"
    Tuesday, Michael Patel, who said he owns the Fast Stop, denied owning the gift shop where the machines are now located. He said he returned his machines that were inside his store to the company that owned them. "We don't like to lose our beer license," he said.
    When asked whether he knew who owned  the gift shop, he told the Statesboro Herald "some lady" he did not know and said he never made much money on the machines.
    However, Patel had previously told law enforcement his wife owned the store.
    During an inspection Feb. 13, Patel "... said he opened the gift shop so his wife would have somewhere to work," Hutchens said. Patel did not return calls Thursday seeking additional comment regarding the gift shop.
    A woman answering the phone at PoJo's Wednesday said the Sumners were out of town, but she would give Phillip Sumner a message to return a call seeking comment about the store's machines. Sumner did not return the calls, nor calls seeking comment Thursday.
    Betty Ann Maddox, who owns the Eldora Pennysaver, did not return calls left Wednesday. A message left in person at the Mini Mart Wednesday for the owner to call a reporter for comment was not answered, and the clerk at the store said he could not provide the owner's name nor contact information.
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter