Burglary call instead leads to gambling bust with 11 video slot machines and $2,000 seized

Officers weren’t looking for illegal gambling machines when they responded to a burglary call Sunday night.

But that’s what they found around 9 p.m. in the rear of the shopping center at 4805 Buena Vista Road, Columbus Police Capt. Gil Slouchick said.

Around the east side of the building and through a pair of white double doors were 11 video slots gambling machines. Several people appeared to be playing the machines, Slouchick said, and when officers opened the machines they found about $2,000 inside.

Police charged Ronnie Lockhart, 61, with commercial gambling, no business license and no alcohol license. Reports state that he was operating the back room “business,” though it had no city business license and the machines had no state Department of Revenue stickers.

Beer was found in a refrigerator and coolers, the captain said. Reports state that there were several empty beer cans and a few full beers.

“Our information was not that he was selling it, but that he was giving it away,” Slouchick said of the beer.

Those who were allegedly playing the machines told police that their winnings were paid in cash, reports state. There were no other arrests, Slouchick said.

He said none of the other businesses in the shopping center were involved.

John E. Wells, a member of the Muscogee County School Board and the owner of the 4805 Buena Vista Road property, said he was surprised when he learned about the bust.

“I am the property owner, and I know absolutely nothing about what happened this weekend,” Wells said.

He added that had he known, he would have tried his best to correct the situation.

Monday afternoon, Steve Tyson stopped by the shopping center to pay his phone bill and said he’s seen people playing cards in front of the business a couple of times. “But I don’t know anything about illegal gambling,” he said of the machines.

Sunny Kwon, manager of the Buena Vista Road Package store across the street, has a good view of the shopping center and sees people sitting in front of the center regularly.

“This area has a lot of traffic,” he said.

Guy Farless, who works at the Subway in the shopping center, said when a co-worker told him about the bust, he was surprised. He figured anything operating in the center was just another store.

Sgt. Bill Gasaway was on the scene Sunday night when the bust happened. He said the machines were similar to ones at VictoryLand in Shorter, Ala., though the exterior was blank and it had no markings or a company’s trademark.

The machines each had a touch video screen, a cash-out button and a slot to put in money.

“It was just plain,” he said. “You put money in it, it gives you credit.”

Once money is inserted in a machine, the screen gives the player an option of what game to play. Gasaway put a dollar in one Sunday night.

“I got some credit back, and then I lost,” he said.

Gasaway was involved in a bust in February 2009, when police got a tip about gambling machines at a Buena Vista Road convenience store. Two undercover officers found eight machines in a back room, police said.

Lockhart’s hearing in Columbus Recorder’s Court is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.