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OCILLA, GA (WALB) – One-by-one electronic gaming machines were hauled off Friday afternoon by investigators. Bill-by-bill, money was counted and confiscated. It's all evidence collected in an illegal gambling raid operating in the heart of Ocilla.
"Today we found 7 gambling machines and a significant amount of money," said Ocilla Police Detective Ashley Jones.
Ocilla Police, Irwin County deputies, and agents with the Department of Revenue served warrants on This and That Variety Store.
Investigators say they were tipped off that illegal gambling was taking place inside a small room in the back of the store.
"They were concerned because some of their family members who had gambling problems were coming here and playing these gambling machines and they were being paid out cash," said Jones.
Two signs taped on the wall above the electronic games reads: "For amusement only. Tickets redeemable for store merchandise only."
But an undercover investigation by the Department of Revenue determined otherwise.
"We contacted the Department of Revenue who had an agent come over. He went undercover. He was able walk back and play the machines and he was paid in cash," Jones said.
This and That owners Damon and Daisy Ross were arrested at the store which has been under investigation for nearly a month. The husband and wife are facing felony commercial gambling charges.
Department of Revenue Agent Ronald Huckaby says he believes there are several businesses operating illegal gambling machines in South Georgia. He says what plays a big part in shutting them down is family members fed up with their loved ones losing their paychecks to the machines, and reporting it to the police.
"It's word of mouth, or concerned citizens, or family members that see their loved ones going and putting their money in these machines in the hopes of getting paid out cash. Then, after it's all gone, their families go hungry the rest of the week or bills go unpaid," Huckaby said.
Investigators say the store will remain closed during the investigation. Along with the gaming machines, and thousands of dollars in cash, the stores cash register was also confiscated.
Officials say the owners had previously been warned by authorities for conducting a similar operation at a business they once operated in Irwin County.
There was not enough substantial evidence in that case to file charges. Shortly after, they began running the variety store in Ocilla.
Damon and Daisy Ross are being held in the Irwin County Detention Center.