Johnson could not be reached for comment. He told Harrodsburg police at the scene that he did not know the machines were illegal.
Johnson, however, previously had pleaded guilty to a similar charge under similar circumstances after two undercover KSP detectives gambled on video machines in the back of Pioneer Market and raided the store in 2009.
According to court records, the two detectives went to the store after three unnamed women came to KSP Post 7 in Richmond to report a gambling operation in the back room of Pioneer Market. “The females stated that Ed Johnson is making large amounts of money from individuals who play the machines,” according to a search warrant obtained in the 2009 case.
On two occasions, the KSP detectives went to the store, had money loaded on to an e-token, gambled on the machines in the back room and then cashed out their e-tokens at the register at the front of the store to receive payouts of the money remaining on their tokens.
When police raided the store in 2009, they seized eight gaming terminals, $761 in cash from the register, another $100 from a bill changer in the back room, and the computer used to operate the e-token system, according to court records.
Johnson was charged with felony promoting gambling and pleaded guilty when the charge was amended to a misdemeanor in 2010. He later tried to withdraw his guilty plea after learning that a gambling conviction would prohibit him from offering Kentucky State Lottery games at his store, but he abandoned that attempt and let the guilty plea stand in September 2011, court records show.
Pioneer Market currently does not offer Lottery games, but when Harrodsburg police raided the store on March 27 of this year, they found Johnson had re-opened the gambling operation and doubled its size. They seized 17 machines, more than $2,300 in cash and the same type of e-token computer system that was previously used at the store.
Harrodsburg police were tipped off after several calls came into the county attorney’s office complaining of gambling losses at the store, including some involving thousands of dollars, Powell said. An undercover operative was sent to the store on multiple occasions, where he used $500 worth of photocopied bills to load cash on to an e-token, played the machines and received payouts. The photocopied bills were recovered inside a money changer seized in March, Powell said.
Two women were playing the machines when officers executed a search warrant at Pioneer Market, but both declined to give statements to police even though they were told they would not be prosecuted, Powell said. So far, no one who has played the machines has come forward to tell police of their experiences at the store.
“I’m not interested in charging them with gambling,”¿he said. “We know there are people out there who have lost money, and we’d really like to talk to them.”
Because gambling on such machines is illegal in Kentucky, they are not regulated and that creates “the potential for abuse” from operators who might set the machines to significantly reduce the odds a player can win money, Powell said.
Mike Razor, director of enforcement for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control, explained that, “On the majority of the machines out there, the owners can set the payoff ratio to whatever they want.”
The ABC investigates illegal gambling in establishments that sell alcohol. Gambling busts at such businesses have been common over the past 12 years but have dropped off considerably in recent years as enforcement has spread, Razor said.
“Most places have learned they can’t have them, so they don’t,” he said.