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Police: Gambling shut down
Gambling mug PATEL
Manoj Patel - photo by Special
    Bulloch County Sheriff’s investigators planned to move on closing down an illegal gambling operation this week, but when they discovered federal agents were planning to arrest the suspect themselves on other charges, they decided to make the bust early, said Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson.
    After a lengthy investigation into illegal gambling payouts, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Inv. Jared Akins was preparing to execute a search warrant at the Fast Stop on U.S. 80 East, owned by Manoj Patel, 37, Circle Drive, he said.
    Patel also owned a shop adjacent to the convenience store that housed an illegal gambling operation as well as gambling machines that violated county ordinances, he said.
    But Patel, who also goes by the name Michael Patel, had other worries besides operating an illegal gambling facility; he was wanted by immigration.
    Ivan Ortiz, spokesman for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Wednesday Patel had “ overstayed his visa” and was an illegal alien.
    Patel is in ICE custody and will be deported out of the country when his criminal cases are resolved, Anderson said.
    There were also issues with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regarding the “sale and importation from other states of untaxed cigarettes” in Patel’s store, Akins said. However, spokesmen with the ATF said those charges have not been filed.
    Akins charged Patel with commercial gambling and operating a gambling facility.
Illegal pay outs
    The crime wasn’t having the “video poker” machines- that was a violation of county ordinance for businesses selling alcohol - but involved the way Patel was giving payouts to customers who won.
    According to Bulloch County Attorney Charles Brown,  state law dictates any payout in merchandise of more than $5 in value is a felony offense. Cash payouts are prohibited in any amount, he said.
    Anderson said “confidential informants” videotaped store personnel giving cash payouts to customers who won credits on the video poker machines.
    In February,  after receiving a letter from the county warning store owners that having the video poker machines on the premises was a violation of county law for stores selling alcohol, Patel took machines from the convenience store portion  of the building, added to their number, and placed them in a “gift shop” next door, Anderson said.
    Inside, the store was sparsely stocked with novelty items and clothing such as tee shirts and caps. One night in February, a young man was seen sitting 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.
    Patrons would 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.
    In a previous interview by phone in February,  Patel denied owning the gift shop where the machines were 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, Anderson said.
    During an inspection Feb. 13, Patel “... said he opened the gift shop so his wife would have somewhere to work,” Anderson said. After the initial interview, Patel did not return calls seeking additional comment regarding the gift shop.
    Anderson said Patel is now in a federal detention center awaiting further court action.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414. 
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