Hit the road jacks, queen, kings and aces

&8220;By gaming we lose both our time and treasure &045; two things most precious to the life of man.&8221;

&045; Owen Felltham

Operators of would-be illegal gaming machines in Shelby County learned one of gaming&8217;s oldest axioms last week:

the house always wins. And in this case, the house is Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry&8217;s office.

Operators of gaming machines located in convenience stores in Calera and Alabaster were warned last week by the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s office that they needed to remove the machines soon. Those convicted of operating illegal gaming machines face a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Our county isn&8217;t the only one making waves on this issue. Our neighbors to the north have been in the center of the gaming machine controversy in recent months as well, after such machines were placed at the Birmingham Race Course. A court battle finally resolved the matter in the Alabama Supreme Court, with a ruling that the machines were illegal and were to be removed from the state no later than Jan. 30, 2007.

In our county, it seems we&8217;ve historically had a penchant for games of chance and the lure of easy money. The debate on what is an illegal gaming machine and what is simply a &8220;game of chance&8221; has raged for years in our state.

A simple rule of thumb is that if there is a chance you can leave with more money than you brought, then it&8217;s illegal.

Folks operating these illegal gambling halls can count on follow-up visits by deputies from the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s office, so their best choice now is to comply with the deputies&8217; requests.

So just what is the big deal about these gaming machines?

First, according to the constitution of the State of Alabama and recently confirmed by Alabama&8217;s highest court, the machines are illegal; that should be plenty incentive not to play.

Secondly, it seems counterintuitive to think that players actually have a chance to leave a gaming hall with more than they brought with any consistency or predictability.

Finally, gaming machines and those that operate them prey on the vulnerabilities of those least able to afford such financial mismanagement, and there&8217;s no room in Shelby County for folks that do that.