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FOX 46 uncovers secret gambling operation in back of tattoo

edit:casino time:2019-02-28

Next to the tattoo art board you'll find an unmarked door. That door leads to a small closet-like area with a second unmarked door. On the other side, the area is monitored by video surveillance. We knock. A few seconds later, the door opens and we're let inside. 

"Hi Matt Grant, FOX 46. Are you running an illegal bling/112M312017.html">gambling operation?," asked Grant. 

This time, he did not want to go on camera.

Answers this business may soon have to give to law enforcement. 

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SBI officials say they work closely with local enforcement to arrest those who violate the state's gambling laws. 

"We're just trying to get some answers about why there's a gambling operation going on back there," said Grant. 

What we uncovered is a small, backroom gambling operation that Ink Link Tattoos, a more than 15-year-old business, doesn't want you to know about. 

GASTONIA, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - Like a tattoo artist's needle, we are going under the surface. 

Off camera, we took our video to Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell. He said he "appreciated" us bringing this to his attention and will "discuss" our findings with local police. 

"You ever play here before?," a man inside the room asks FOX 46's undercover producer. "Who told you about this place?"

"That’s just going to push tattoo artists out of the city of Gastonia," he said at the time. 

Customers come by word of mouth, according to a source. Inside, we found at least four video poker and blackjack machines. These games are untaxed and unregulated. One is branded with a Carolina Panthers logo.

FOX 46 showed the video to former CMPD officer Walter Bowers. 

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Two employees kept their back turned and said nothing. A third employee ducked into a room and closed the door.

FOX 46 interviewed Ink Link's owner Jeff Mauney back in 2016. At the time, he spoke out against a proposed ordinance that would restrict operating hours of tattoo shops. 

"Is there a reason it's hidden back here?," our producer asked

"You're asking a lot of questions, man," the room attendant responded. 

Using a hidden camera, FOX 46 went undercover inside a Gastonia tattoo shop to expose a secret. From the outside, Ink Link Tattoos, on East Franklin Boulevard in Gastonia, is unassuming. However, this business is more than skin deep. 

Technically, that's true.

"If I was still open today," said Terry Pennington, "I'd at least be pulling $10,000 to $20,000 a week."

The problem is video poker machines were outlawed in 2007, according to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation along with slot machines and other "games of chance."

SBI officials don't know how many businesses statewide may be running illegal gambling operations. However, a former sweepstakes cafe owner says the industry can be lucrative.

After weeks of leaving messages, we still had questions. So, we came back to Ink Link. This time, our camera wasn't hidden.

The landlord tells FOX 46 that would be trespassing since Mauney does not have permission to use this space. 

Because of what our undercover investigation found, Mauney and Ink Link Tattoos will be evicted, the landlord told FOX 46 by phone. 

This place is protected by a fake wall and a video surveillance system that monitors the outside of the door and building . 

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