Another raid of a suspected illegal gambling hall occurred in Corpus Christi last week. It’s at least the third high-profile shutdown since July.
Five women arrested after sting operation
There are no commercial casinos in Texas because they’re not legal. Because of that, illegal gambling halls with eight-liner slot machines are prevalent throughout the state.
In the latest police action, two undercover officers executed a sting, capping off a multi-week-long investigation by patronizing the game room. They played machines that indirectly led to cash payouts, which enabled law enforcement to obtain a search warrant.
Upon serving the warrant, officials found gambling machines, more than $36,000 cash and other gambling-related evidence.
Five women were arrested at the scene, all charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and keeping a gambling place. Four of them also received charges of gambling promotion and possession of a gambling device.
All five face maximum fines of $10,000 and up to two years in jail.
Raids highlight a need for legal gaming in Texas
The state did provide a definitive ruling which outlawed eight-liner machines earlier this year, saying they exhibit clear conditions for gambling devices. However, enforcement of these rooms is not uniform across the state, especially in rural, unincorporated places.
Currently, the responsibility to create gaming ordinances lies with each of Texas’ 254 counties.
Cities such as Lufkin and Elsa could be paving the way for a new approach. Lufkin passed a local ordinance to allow not-for-cash rooms to operate legally in addition to local sheriffs shutting down nine illegal rooms in the last year. Several more have voluntarily shut down since.
Meanwhile, the state and local counties are missing out on untold sums of tax revenue while gambling action goes underground or across state lines. If legal gambling can move forward on a statewide level in Texas, the sky is the limit.
Illegal gambling continues to thrive
The Corpus Christi Police Department took down operations in July and September, showing it is taking an active approach to quelling the city’s underground game rooms. It is not the only city experiencing these problems. Other recent examples include San Antonio and Amarillo.
Still, rooms exist throughout the state, effectively creating a losing environment for players and the state and local governments. Only those who operate illegal rooms stand to benefit. Even worse, these places often have ties to other illicit activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution and human trafficking.
Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi, passed a game room ordinance earlier this year, similar to Lufkin’s. With these black-and-white conditions, law enforcement can go after illegal rooms with conviction.
Still, Corpus Christi is more than five hours from the nearest casinos in Louisiana. Human nature and history dictate that players who want to gamble close to home will continue to patronize these illegal rooms as long as they remain open.
The best solution is to create a legal, regulated environment that will benefit law-abiding business owners, patrons and governments.
New county ordinance goes into effect Jan 1
Nueces County’s new ordinance passed in May and was initially scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1. Delays caused that date to become Jan. 1, said County Commissioner Brent Chesney.
“I don’t want anybody to think we are backing off this at all. It just takes a while. It’s not an easy thing to put in place. It takes logistics.”
Some of those logistics are:
- Number of rooms: A maximum of 130 game room licenses will be awarded.
- Number of machines: Rooms may have no more than 200 machines.
- Location: Game rooms cannot be within 1,500 feet of any planned school, place of religious worship or residential neighborhood. No more than two rooms may exist within a 2,000-foot radius.
- Hours: Game rooms can operate between noon and 12 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and between 2 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Visibility: At least two sides of the game room must have at least one transparent window, where every machine in the room is visible in plain sight.
- Visibility Part 2: All game rooms must have external signage reading: “GAME ROOM” in block lettering that can be seen from at least 25 feet away.
To apply, business owners must submit a $1,000 fee and be in good standing with the law. As of now, no deadline exists to apply.