Eight DeKalb County businesses were recently served warrants from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after they were found to house illegal gambling operations. Officials throughout DeKalb County say businesses licensed to operate coin operated amusement machines (COAMs) are a constant source of widespread abuse, especially when doling out cash payouts for winning store merchandise and Lottery tickets in violation of state law.
A COAM is defined as “any type of machine or device that will automatically provide music or some other type of entertainment when a coin, token or some other object, such as a credit card, is deposited,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. This includes everything from arcade video games and pinball machines to jukeboxes and slot machines. Licensed businesses can only reward COAM patrons with store credit, merchandise or lottery tickets, state law stipulates.
The upsurge in illegal COAM activity shines a spotlight on former DeKalb County attorney Bob Wilson, who acts as the sole hearing officer/judge appointed by the Lottery for all COAM dispute cases.
It is a very competitive industry with many cases involving an operator trying to dig dirt on competitors in hopes that Lottery officials will revoke their licenses. Then, to win back an operator license and to clear their names, the targeted vendors must get attorneys and argue their case before Wilson.
An example of one such public hearing overseen by Wilson occurred on Feb. 17 at Lottery headquarters. According to the transcript, an attorney named Les Schneider claims that a stranger walked into his office— and that he can’t remember his name— and gave him a substantial amount of cash along with a video purportedly of people exchanging money in some unknown store with people speaking in Hindi. The case revolves around how did the Lottery eventually determine what store it was and who the person or people involved were— and why was the attorney given cash that he claimed he kept in a drawer and only revealed its existence until recently.
At one point, Wilson termed such testimony “entertaining.” Atlanta attorney Mark Spix, a veteran COAM attorney, has his own take: “Attorneys for competitors should not be permitted to provide illegal video anonymously— in conjunction with cash received from an anonymous source– to the hearing officer (Wilson) for use against a competitor.”
Wilson is expected to rule on “The case of the Anonymous Video & Cash” shortly.