DOYLE, Chief Judge.
The State of Georgia filed a complaint for forfeiture in rem against the owners of a Citgo gas station based on alleged illegal commercial gambling on the premises using video gaming machines. The trial court granted the relief sought, and Tejaskumar Satish Patel and Dharmasut, LLC ("the defendants"), the owners of the station, appeal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
"We begin by noting that the interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo on appeal. Moreover, because the trial court's ruling on a legal question is not due any deference, we apply the `plain legal error' standard of review."
The evidence in this case is undisputed. In 2015, the Hall County Sheriff's Department was informed that employees at the gas station were paying out cash to winners using the store's coin-operated amusement machines. On May 25, 2015, a confidential informant placed $40 in a machine and redeemed the accumulated $20 credit with a store employee in exchange for two scratch-off lottery tickets.
On June 4, 2015, police executed a search warrant for the gas station and seized $12,027.50 in cash from video gaming machines, the registers, a cash bag, a safe, drawers, boxes, Patel's wallet, and an ATM machine. The State then filed a complaint for forfeiture in rem pursuant to OCGA § 16-12-32. Following a hearing, the trial court approved the forfeiture, concluding that by paying out cash and lottery tickets as winnings for customers using the amusement machines, the appellants converted the machines to "gambling devices"; the gas station qualified as a gambling place; and the currency was "used in, intended for use in, used to facilitate, derived from, or realized through" gambling activity. This appeal followed.
The defendants contend that the trial court erred by granting the forfeiture because the video gaming machines at issue were not "gambling devices" under Georgia law. We disagree.
OCGA § 16-12-20 (a) (2) (2015) defines "a gambling device" as "[a]ny contrivance which for a consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain money or other thing of value, the award of which is determined by chance even though accompanied by some skill, whether or not the prize is automatically paid by contrivance."
Here, the machines themselves do not produce cash or lottery tickets to players as rewards to players. The trial court concluded, however, that by giving players cash and lottery tickets as rewards for winning games on the machines, the gas station employees effectively converted them into gambling devices. OCGA § 16-12-32 (b) (4) (2015) permits the State to seize via forfeiture "[a]ny property located in this state which was, directly or indirectly, used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate a violation of this article or of the laws of the United States relating to gambling and any proceeds." Thus, pretermitting whether the cash payouts from the employees converted the machines into "gambling devices" as defined by statute, these actions clearly violated the gambling laws of Georgia, which prohibit cash payouts for winning games on machines when the winnings are determined by chance even if they involve an element of skill.
Judgment affirmed. Miller, P. J., and Reese, J., concur.