Officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation descended Tuesday on two Columbus Internet sweepstakes business, executing search warrants and seizing equipment and cash in the state’s efforts to curb what it calls illegal gambling.
The sweep included seven businesses in six cities, including Columbus and LaGrange. Joe Chesnut, GBI assistant special agent in charge, said the seizures fell on the heels of indictments out of DeKalb County on RICO charges against three Columbus residents: James Kokott, James Clemmons and Marilyn Clemmons.
Kokott, the owner of the businesses named “Big Dawg,” is in custody in Atlanta. The two Clemmons remain at large, Chesnut said.
No one was arrested Tuesday at the Columbus businesses, he added.
At issue is Kokott’s business, which Chesnut says purports to deal in telephone calling cards. However, the businesses also hold “sweepstakes,” and pay out money to winners.
Customers could put money on a card that was then swiped at a computer terminal.
“They could win or lose money, essentially like you’re in a casino in Las Vegas,” Chesnut said.
GBI agents and the Special Operations Unit with Columbus police executed search warrants at Big Dawg locations on Manchester Expressway and South Lumpkin Road. Chesnut was at the Manchester location, where he saw the manager take off his shirt, throw it in the trash and quit on the spot. Before leaving, Chesnut locked the business’ door because no owner or manager was present.
“We’ve got to secure the location,” Chesnut said. “The manager quit and the owner’s in jail.”
Chesnut emphasized that his agents did not close the businesses. They executed search warrants. However, he doubted that Big Dawg could continue operations after the seizures without first getting new computers.