Illegal Gaming Machine Central to Wrongful Death Lawsuit

  • 50-year-old Ashokkumar Patel was killed in a robbery-murder
  • Lawyers are holding the machine manufacturer and supplier liable
  • Pennsylvania, like many states, has struggled to control illegal gaming machines
  • The assailant had previously gambled at the gas station illegally
Police tape at a gas station
An illegal gambling machine that was present during a gas station murder-robbery is being used as fuel for a lawsuit. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Illegal gaming machine leads to murder

An illegal slot machine is at the center of a wrongful death lawsuit connected to the December 12, 2020 murder of a Pennsylvania gas station clerk. 

The suit alleges that the property owner, machine manufacturer, and supplier valued the illegal gaming machine more than the life of 50-year-old Ashokkumar Patel, who was the victim of a robbery-murder at Craig’s Mart, a Sunoco-affiliated retailer, in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

had only been working at the store for one week and was mopping the floor when he was fatally shot

The suit was filed by Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky P.C. (SMB) on behalf of the victim’s widow, two daughters, and son. Patel had only been working at the store for one week and was mopping the floor when he was fatally shot from close range.

“A killing machine”

The court filing references “gross negligence and strict product liability” from game developer Pace-O-Matic (POM), Sunoco, and contract manufacturing company Miele Manufacturing. These entities, according to Patel’s legal team, are culpable in creating a “mini-casino” absent of regulations expected in the casino industry.

“Illegal gambling devices have a long and nefarious history in our Commonwealth’s criminal justice history as magnets for violent criminals looking for an easy score, knowing that the small stores that typically provide them are stocked with thousands of dollars to make instant cash payouts,” said SMB’s Larry Bendesky.

Illegal gaming machines have proved a tough obstacle to tackle in many states. In Missouri, lawmakers have failed to agree on legal sports betting measures because the state’s focus is primarily on ridding illegal machines from gas stations, truck stops, and restaurants and bars.

In October, San Antonio police recovered 70 illegal gambling machines as part of a sting operation that led to two dozen arrests.

Lawyers fighting on behalf of the Patel family believe that the involvement of an illegal gaming machine presented an obvious motive for the criminals.

“The combative, controversial industry that refers to these devices as ‘skill games,’ and their partners at gas stations and other small businesses unequipped to handle these operations, needs to be held accountable for what, in this case, was clearly a killing machine,” said Bendesky.

Missing security protocols 

The lawsuit also speaks to the context of the robbery.

At the time, the country was still heavily in the middle of the worldwide pandemic. Many businesses were either closed or forced to furlough many of their workers, foot traffic decreased significantly, and the COVID-19 vaccine was not yet available.

Patel fell into the group of “essential workers” that were allowed and needed to return to work to maintain a stable economy. SMB lawyers say that he was put in grave danger simply by returning to work. 

“Workers like Mr. Patel were considered ‘essential’ during this time in the pandemic,” said Robert W. Zimmerman of SMB’s legal team. “But the only thing that was essential to the defendants was to place as many illicit profit centers—these illegal gaming devices—throughout the state as they could, without any regard to their inherent dangers.”

a robber who claimed to have a gun had already struck the Craig’s Mart earlier in 2020

The complaint noted that a robber who claimed to have a gun had already struck the Craig’s Mart earlier in 2020. It also highlighted other local venues with illegal gaming machines that had been robbed before the fatal shooting.

In the investigation following the murder, the Luzerne County District Attorney revealed that the killer had previously gambled at the store and knew there was little-to-no on-site security.