exterior shot of the Covington Business Center
COVINGTON -- Following a press conference by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal during which he called upon state and local authorities to enforce Georgia's gaming laws "to the fullest extent," local law enforcement made a surprise visit to a Covington establishment and ordered it to shut its doors.
Deal and the state's top law enforcement officials vowed Thursday to crackdown on illegal Internet gambling, and District Attorney Layla Zon and Covington Police Department Capt. Philip Bradford say that is exactly what was going on at the Covington Business Center, located in the Covington Corners shopping center at the intersection of Alcovy Road and U.S. Highway 278.
"They had 50 computer stations and you pay to play," Bradford said. "The screen on the computer looks like a slot machine. It's simply a location to go to and do online gambling."
Zon and Bradford went to the establishment and told them they were shutting them down.
"They shut down within five minutes and kicked all the customers out," Zon said. "It's illegal in the state of Georgia to operate a gaming place and we told them we wanted them closed by today and have their machines out and a sign on the door that it was closed for business."
Zon said there was a manager at the location who got in touch with a person she identified as the owner in South Carolina and Zon delivered the message.
"We didn't charge anyone. We just told them to cease and desist and we wouldn't raid them and confiscate their computers and seize the money in their accounts," Zon said, adding that she was sure the employees and investors in such establishments had been told they are legal in Georgia.
"Attorneys have been coming to DAs and saying this is legal that it's a sweepstakes and the customers are paying for Internet time," Zon said, adding that they try to compare the "sweepstakes" at these establishments to what McDonald's does when they offer their version of Monopoly. "The difference is when you go to McDonald's, you go there to get a hamburger, not gamble. They've been very blatant and brazen. For all practical purposes, it's a casino."
Bradford said law enforcement had been keeping a keen eye on the Covington location, pointing out that the industry is rapidly growing across the state, with some 59 known establishments of this type.
"The Covington Police Department was aware illegal activity was going on there and had begun to look into it," he said. "The governor's move today made it so much easier to put this place out of business without having to put in man hours on the investigation. It really helped us out."
Zon said she called the Governor's Office to offer her thanks for his stand against Internet gaming and said she felt it was an obligation to the community for law enforcement to step in and take action whenever laws are broken.
Zon also travelled to Monroe and met with the police chief there and the two of them shut down a similar location in that area Thursday, as well.