ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson wasn’t bluffing earlier this month when he told three businesses in the county that illegal video poker machines won’t be tolerated.
Over the past three weeks, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office has seized 17 video poker machines and more than $8,500 in cash from three businesses in the county — Bulls Gap VFW, C.J.'s Market and Stanley Valley Pool Hall.
Although no criminal charges were filed, Lawson said the machines were destroyed, and forfeiture proceedings have begun for the cash.
In response to citizen complaints about illegal gambling, HCSO detectives visited C.J.'s Market and the Stanley Valley Pool Hall.
Lawson said detectives found six video poker machines at C.J.'s Market. Another three were seized from the Stanley Valley Pool Hall, which is located beside the Stanley Valley Market.
Lawson said he received information three weeks ago from the Greene County Sheriff’s Office that there were illegal poker machines in the Bulls Gap VFW.
“I sent detectives over there to inquire about them, and they admitted there were some machines there and freely gave them up,” Lawson said. “We got eight of the big, stand-up machines from the VFW. The machines at C.J.'s Market and Stanley Valley are the smaller kind that sit on a bar or countertop.
“Nobody has actually claimed any of these machines, and we have issued verbal warnings to these establishments that if we find poker machines in there again there will be criminal charges.”
The same day the HCSO seized machines from the Bulls Gap VFW, Greene County sheriff’s deputies seized 18 video poker machines across their county, Lawson said.
Lawson said it is illegal to possess video poker machines in Tennessee, but it would be difficult to prove that illegal gambling was taking place without a more in-depth investigation.
He said the business owners will hopefully get the message, and his deputies will be keeping a close eye out for poker machines in the future.
“We’ve got a lot of people abusing these poker machines, blowing their entire paycheck and causing family problems,” Lawson said. “When their spouse figures out what happened to the money, that’s when we hear about it. All these establishments cooperated and turned over the machines, and we really don’t know who owns the machines.
“We told them if this happens again an investigation will be conducted and people will be charged.”
Assuming no one claims the poker machines or $8,500, the funds will be forfeited through Hawkins County Circuit Court and deposited in the Hawkins County general fund.