For three weeks, the Karnes County Sheriff’s Office seized more than $55,000 from alleged gambling operations. Most of that money will go towards funding the Sheriff’s Department.
Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villaneuva announced in a press release that investigators with his office shut down an illegal gambling operation in Karnes County on Thursday, March 23.
The illegal Texas gambling operation on Hwy 181 just north of Karnes City was issued a search warrant from the Sheriff’s Office. During the raid, investigators seized illegal gambling devices and United States Currency. Authorities also took the game room operator into custody.
Villaneuva said in a Karnes Countywide article:
“The raid went smoothly and the operator is in custody. That’s what usually happens. We bring in the operator and charge them with possession of gambling devices and equipment and promotion of illegal gambling.”
In his press release, Villaneuva said his office was stepping up its efforts to tackle the issue of game rooms because “gambling in Texas is illegal” (save for a few instances).
According to the County Sheriff, investigations into illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, and illicit drugs in the establishments will continue with the aim of eradicating them in Karnes County.
Villanueva continued: “The Sheriff’s Office continues to devote its resources to crime inside of Karnes County instead of sending resources to other countries and costing the taxpayers of Karnes County a lot of wasted time and money.”
While legislation filed in both houses would legalize Texas casinos, the game rooms in question would not fall under the jurisdiction of these bills, which focus only on large-scale “resort casinos.”
Is the Karnes County Sheriff’s Office policing for profit?
All in all, the Sheriff’s Office seized a total of $900,000 from criminal organizations conducting business in Karnes County, according to the press release. The Office used those funds to buy law enforcement equipment and to save taxpayers money.
Villanueva made it clear that his office doesn’t get all the confiscated money. A portion goes to the courts and the rest stays with the office.
Villaneuva and the Sheriff’s Office are working in tandem with the County Attorney’s Office and the County Commissioner to pass a county ordinance that would end illegal gambling in the county. Villanueva said:
“If you go back about five years ago, these gambling rooms were outlawed in the Karnes City limits. That’s why we’ve seen them popping up throughout the county. Karnes County has never had an ordinance in place.”
Using seized money from game rooms to fund law enforcement is common practice in Texas. Under Texas forfeiture laws, law enforcement is authorized to seize property they believe has been or will be involved in a crime.
The property may be cash, a car, personal belongings, or, in the case of gaming rooms, gambling devices and equipment. This practice, however, raises concerns that law enforcement is policing for profit. And that they are relying on asset forfeiture to subsidize their department’s budgets.
While law enforcement is quick to condemn game rooms, these establishments are usually up and running shortly after a raid. That leads many to believe there is a profit incentive for the police.
Texas poker clubs receiving similar treatment to game rooms
There have been numerous crackdowns on card rooms in Texas. A high-profile situation occurred in January 2022 when the Texas Card House in Northwest Dallas received notice its permit had been revoked. However, authorities allowed the card room to resume operations after an appeal with the Board of Adjustments.
Poker rooms in Texas have become very popular in the last few years, although they ride a fine line. They operate in a gray area of the law by not taking rakes from games. But instead, they charge players membership fees.
Both private card rooms and game rooms have a tenuous hold on their legal standing in Texas. While lawmakers are taking steps to clarify their positions, counties and cities have been left with the difficult challenge of deciding how and how much to enforce the current penal code.