When a location is raided, Adair explained, the authorities can charge anyone inside the establishment — which is usually a handful of patrons and an employee, but not the owner. Since it can take about two years for a misdemeanor case to make it through the court system, the expense of keeping the machines in a secure location as evidence is a financial challenge, especially in view of the circling budget cuts.
The DA and AG’s offices both said they have committed themselves to enforcing the law, and as long as gambling is illegal, they will uphold that, even if it isn’t always a popular choice.
“If people of the state want to change it, they need to put it on the ballot,” Adair said.
However, spending that many resources to obtain hard-fought misdemeanor convictions that didn’t touch the root of the problem did not seem the best route to Adair. Because of that, his office has largely chosen to proceed with civil forfeitures of the machines.
“Instead of arresting people who, in our opinion, are tangentially related to the operation of these facilities, we decided to go after the economic side of this to seize the machines and get them forfeited as quickly as possible,” Adair said.
Adair said information from undercover operatives estimates that a location with 15 machines can generate approximately $5,000 in a week, making the business very lucrative for the person who owns the facility.
“These people are not in business to lose money, and they are making it off people who can’t afford to lose it,” Adair said.
Adair said that his office gets tips called in from residents whose spouses have lost paychecks, grocery money or rent and mortgage payments in these illegal facilities. They have also become hubs for drug activity, as well as robbery and other issues.
“This is not a victimless crime,” Adair said.
Adair said undercover operatives in the area have said that the work of the DA and AG’s offices has made an impact on the operations in the county, although he declined to offer specifics on that, due to the ongoing nature of some of the investigations.
He did say that the number of machines in each location has decreased significantly, from an average of 20-30 machines in each location a few years ago, to just 10 or 15 in most locations raided recently.
Legislation to make it possible for authorities to seize property and locations used in the illegal gambling operations died earlier this year, so operations often reopen in the same locations.
Seroyer praised Adair, saying he had sent a clear message to the people of Walker County that illegal activity will not be tolerated, and the AG’s office will support him in these operations. Adair also said he appreciated the support of the AG’s office in these matters, assisting with the undercover operations and other aspects of the investigations.
Adair hopes this is just the first shipment and many more machines seized in Walker County will be destroyed in the coming weeks. Adair estimated the total number of machines currently in storage at about 1,000 in the county.