Laredo Police arrested a woman on Dec. 30 in relation to an eight-liner raid that took place seven months earlier. Paola Elizabeth Matias-Vasquez has been charged with gambling promotion.
Police in Laredo got a tip that illegal gaming was taking place
In April last year, law enforcement officers received a tip about possible illegal payouts to customers at the Golden Lion Amusement, now known as Lucky Train Amusement, at 4500 San Bernardo Ave. in Laredo.
An investigation immediately began. Several undercover officers went to the game room. Officers reportedly observed at least two illegal cash payouts to customers.
A month later, officers from the Laredo Police Department Narcotics and Vice Unit teamed up with the Webb County District Attorney’s Office and the patrol division to conduct a search of the premises. During that search, Matias-Vasquez, 31, was identified as an employee at the business. Also, $11,892 and 80 slot machines were taken by authorities.
How do eight-liners work?
Eight-liners, also known as maquinitas, typically operate like a video slot machine.
A patron pays to play the machine, which displays nine symbols arranged in three columns and three rows. The machine records the payment as credits. The player bets credits then pushes a button to make the three columns spin. If the columns stop with three of the same symbols in one of eight possible lines (three vertical, three horizontal, two diagonal), the player wins additional credits. Customers can redeem credits for more plays or for a “prize.”
These games are particularly popular in Texas where commercial casino gaming does not exist.
Many eight-liner operators successfully skirt Texas’ gaming laws. They’ve figured out just the right value of prizes to offer to stay within the legal boundaries.
Maquinitas: A risky operation
Under Texas law, maquinitas are permitted for amusement purposes only, meaning no actual gambling can be involved. The basic notion is that people can pay to play these eight-liners for fun, and receive a payout of up to $5, or a prize of equal value. However, payouts at maquinitas are typically much larger than this, sometimes massive. It’s not uncommon to hear of winnings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While some view maquinitas as a harmless vice, police reports indicate that they attract crime, violence and vandalism. In the last year alone, Laredo Police have shut down more than a dozen game rooms, arresting and charging owners and patrons alike.
According to estimates shared by the Texas Lottery Commission, there are 30,000 to 150,000 illegal eight-liner machines in the state. Officials estimate that Texans spend up to $1.9 billion playing maquinitas each year.
Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to give voters in each city and county the opportunity to either outlaw or decriminalize eight-liners. But so far, legislative endeavors have fallen short of that aim.
Until voters approve a constitutional amendment, or the Texas Supreme Court weighs in, eight-liner game rooms will continue to operate on legally shaky grounds.