LAGRANGE, GA (WTVM) - For years, authorities in Troup County and in the city of LaGrange have been busting area convenience stores for having video poker machines paying players out in cash.
But their latest gambling bust is the first of its kind, involving computers and internet games.
Investigators say a new office and copy center, called the LaGrange Business Center, is just a front for a gambling operation, including a room of computers where the lights were out and music was playing.
"The main purpose and goal of this business was gambling. It was the main source of income from what we can tell from our investigation. They had a so called back room that only repeat customers were allowed to enter and play the games," said Investigator Darrell Prichard with the LaGrange Police Department's Special Investigations Unit.
"Gambling is a major problem here in the city and county with people spending their entire paychecks. They'll show up on a Thursday or Friday evening and sit there and just play games. Gambling is an addiction. People with this addiction sit there and gamble away all of their money and that's how we came to know about this business. We received complaints from citizens of their spouses and loved ones gambling away their income. Most of the time, the people coming to this location were on a fixed income," Prichard added.
Detectives say players paid to buy internet time which gave them access to 27 different games.
The store presented it as a promotional sweepstakes to attract customers but police say they're trying to find a loophole in the law.
Ken Hodges, attorney for the software company, say sweepstakes are legal in Georgia and the games are in compliance with the law.
Hodges says LaGrange is the first agency in the state of Georgia to make a case like this even though the technology is being used in many cities. He says the business promotion is legal which is why other jurisdictions across the state are not prosecuting them.
Customers compared the sweepstakes to other giveaway contests.
"It's similar to the Monopoly game at McDonald's where your entered into a sweepstakes when you buy something from McDonald's for monopoly. It has a cash value just like here when you play their games online, it's a sweepstakes. It's predetermined. It's nothing like gambling. It's just a sweepstakes. I don't see anything illegal with that," a frequent customer named Ben said outside of the store. He did not want to give his last name.
Officials with the Columbus Police Department's Special Operations Unit, otherwise known as the VICE Squad, say there are several stores in the city are using the same computer games as those at the center of the LaGrange bust. Captain Gil Slouchick says there are three stores he knows of- one on Manchester Expressway, one on South Lumpkin Road and another on Buena Vista Road.
He is still waiting on a ruling from the District Attorney's Office on whether they're considered illegal gambling or a sweepstakes. District Attorney Julia Slater could not be reached for comment Thursday.