The seizure of three gambling machines Friday night is just another step in local law enforcement efforts to rid Salt Lake County of gambling.
Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs have conducted three major raids this year and a small sweep of State Street bars in an effort to halt the illegal electronic gambling. Vice Sgt. Jay Labrum said Friday the raids are helping, but they are also making continuing investigations more difficult."Some of the bigger operations used to pay off right on the spot, and it was pretty easy to document the gambling," Labrum said. "Now they are trying to make it more sophisticated and more difficult to track the payoffs."
Part of the difficulty in determining whether gambling is occurring is the fact that the machines are not illegal. In most instances, the games seen in local bars are not much different than the video arcade games throughout the city, Labrum said.
"They are not considered a gambling device unless we can determine that there is a way that the points can be tallied and then cleared for other players," Labrum said. "If they cannot be mechanically controlled then they are not illegal."
Determining which ones are controlled and which ones are not has become the challenge. Labrum said undercover police make regular visits to area clubs and taverns looking for problems and indications that something irregular is occurring.
"It's very possible to dump $500 in one of these machines in as little as three hours," Labrum said. "Someone putting a large amount of money into one of these machines is sometimes an indication that the person is looking for a payoff."
The machines are far from innocuous, and heavy play by an individual can have repercussions beyond the club or tavern where he plays.
"Our biggest source of complaints are mamas coming in and telling us that Pop is dumping $50 or $100 at a time in these machines and that this has been going on for a year or so," Labrum said. "Finally it's reached a point where they can't put food on the table or clothe the kids."