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Bust takes down gambling houses in east Haywood

A months-long undercover investigation led to a raid of three underground gambling parlors in Haywood County last week.

The private gambling houses were outfitted with video poker and keno machines. Officers seized 35 illegal gambling machines and $8,000 in cash during the raids, carried out simultaneously last Thursday.

All three gambling parlors were located on a half-mile stretch of the Old Asheville Highway east of Canton, not far from the Buncombe County line. They were each owned and operated by different people.

“They were all in competition with each other,” explained Lt. Tyler Trantham with the Waynesville Police Department. “One opened, then another popped up, then another. They were drawing clientele from both Buncombe and Haywood.”

The gambling parlors were operating out of leased buildings. Inside, the floor was lined with video gambling machines and little else. No merchandise was sold, but most provided sodas.

“They have a cooler with soft drinks and you just help yourself. That’s to keep people there and keep them playing,” Trantham said.

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The gambling parlors were often thick with cigarette smoke.

Most video gambling operations have an owner who provides the machines and hires an employee to man the site. Felony charges have been pressed against the owner and on-site manager for one of the three locations. Arrests in connection with the other two sites are pending as the investigation proceeds, as well as the possibility of additional charges against the two arrested so far.

Video gambling has been a controversial issue for law enforcement in recent years. The legality of certain types of machines classified as “video sweepstakes” is a grey area with the courts.

But the gambling machines in operation at these sites were not the sweepstakes variety and were clearly outlawed by as a form of gambling.

“They all used the lingo sweepstakes in their signs, because they thought if they used that lingo they would be OK. But these were clear violations of the state statute,” Trantham said.

The investigation began in February as a result of several citizen complaints and tips.  The investigation was a cooperative effort between the county’s multi-agency Unified Narcotics Investigative Team, which includes all four police departments and the Haywood County Sheriff’s office, as well as Alcohol Law Enforcement, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security.

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