A confidential informant testified Thursday that he felt like he was gambling when he won more than $110 playing a video slot machine last September 13 in Havelock.
The testimony came at the Craven County Courthouse in New Bern in the first day of the trial of Greg Muse, 52, of James City, who is charged with 15 counts of manufacturing or selling slot machines and one count of possessing a slot machine. Muse owns Craven Music Company.
Video evidence taken by a confidential informant showed the man entering the Super Expressway, paying $20 to a clerk and sitting down for about a 15-minute session playing one of the business’s two gaming machines.
After losing several games and winning a handful of others, the informant cashed in his ticket for $130 and change.
“I believed I was gambling,” the informant said on the stand. At the request of the Havelock Police Department, the Havelock News has agreed not to reveal the name of the confidential informant.
The state’s first witness was Lt. Christopher Morning, of the Havelock Police Department, who testified that the investigation into stand up style gaming machines was undertaken after the department received complaints.
Morning testified that the department purchased undercover video equipment and sent three undercover officers and three civilians into five Havelock businesses to gather evidence. The businesses included the Super Expressway, Jane’s Place, U.S. Mini Mart, Food Fare and Mr. P’s Sweepstakes.
Morning testified that the officers and informants paid clerks at the businesses who then applied the money toward credits on the gaming devices. If the player won, a receipt was printed by the machine that could be exchanged for money.
Morning testified that search warrants were obtained after the investigation that resulted in the seizure of 16 gaming machines and more than 300 items of evidence at seven Havelock-area businesses on Oct. 17. Muse was one of eight people that were charged in connection with the devices.
Muse is being represented by attorney’s Marc Chestnut and Gary Clemmons. Chestnut said that police began their prosecution thinking they were dealing with violations of sweepstakes statute and subsequently charged Muse with violating the slot machine statute. “That right there ought to be reasonable doubt,” Chestnut said.
Prosecutor Robert McAfee called the argument “nonsense” and said it was a “red herring.”
“The whole discussion was about sweepstakes but after the investigation, the evidence, and talking to the DA’s office we subsequently charged Mr. Muse with violating the slot machine stature,” Morning testified. “It was based on the totality of the evidence.”
Morning explained that sweepstakes are typically played with computers hooked to servers and the Internet, while free standing slot machines are operated independently using a “money box” or kiosk.
“Sometime after you seized all those things your theory changed. Isn’t that right?” Chestnut asked Morning.
“That may be my fault for using the word sweepstakes. Maybe I should have used the word gambling,” Morning testified.
Chestnut pointed out that the term “sweepstakes” is in the search warrant but Muse was charged with a slot machine violation.
The confidential informant was called to the stand and explained how he was given $20 by police to use to play the Super Expressway gaming machines and ultimately cash in winnings.
Defense attorney Clemmons grilled the informant about his record, which included federal and state felony drug convictions and two lengthy stays in prison.
The informant testified that his criminal past gave him no benefit in his ability to play the machines.
The defense maintained that the gaming devices were games a skill that required use of the eyes, fingers, brain, some motor control, memory, knowledge and experience, to which the informant agreed.
“I would agree that it takes some type of skill, yes,” he testified. Somewhat to the contrary, the informant had earlier testified that “after a while you can see pattern, but you can’t predict what’s coming down. The machine stops itself.”
What’s clear is that in the informant’s one go at the machine he ended up with more than five times the money he started with.
“You did really well,” the clerk is heard on the video telling the informant. “Congratulations.”
“I thank you,” the informant said before lighting a cigarette and walking off down Forest Hills Drive.
Judge Walter Mills called an end to testimony after the first two witnesses in the late afternoon. The next date for the trial to continue has not been determined.