A Baltimore County judge gave the county Police Department two weeks yesterday to determine whether video machines seized during raids of dozens of area establishments are gambling devices.
Under Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz's order, police must return the machines if no charges are filed.
Levitz issued the ruling two days after meeting with lawyers from the Police Department and Carbond Inc., which last week filed papers asking the judge to order police to return the machines. If the machines are declared gambling devices by the police, the county state's attorney office will have two weeks to decide whether to prosecute the case, according to the judge's order.
Vice squad detectives seized 110 machines from 41 restaurants, bars and other establishments May 8 in one of the largest gambling raids in recent history, police said. That followed other, smaller raids in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. A police spokesman declined to comment on the case.
Officials from the state's attorney office also declined to comment, citing the pending police investigation. A lawyer for Carbond did not return calls.
Levitz ordered all machines not determined to be illegal returned to Carbond within two days.
In court papers, the president of Carbond, Carroll Bond III, said he has never been convicted of violating gambling laws and has suffered significant financial losses since the raids.
Bond said he wanted to replace the machines but was informed by the county's Department of Licensing and Permits that no new permits for video machines were being issued, according to court papers.
Illegal payouts on amusement devices, which operate differently from slot machines, have been studied by a number of law enforcement agencies and foundations over the years.
Two years ago, the Abell Foundation released a report saying operators of video poker machines and other amusement video games cheat the state out of $15 million annually in uncollected tax revenue, and make illegal payments to players.
The study, which focused on hundreds of corner bars, restaurants and convenience stores in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, found that they under-report their taxable earnings by $63 million to $153 million a year. The foundation recommended banning the machines or legalizing gambling activities associated with them so that income from the games can be better regulated.