Despite a shooting at a Lubbock game room in late March that left one dead and multiple injured, Lubbock County lawmakers have chosen not to make changes to city ordinances that would regulate game rooms.
Game rooms in Lubbock County are unregulated beyond the laws put forth by the state. The Texas Legislature allowed counties to regulate these rooms a decade ago but some leaders chose not to act on the opportunity while others have passed ordinances outlining regulated game room markets within their jurisdiction.
What exactly constitutes a game room? In short, the Texas Local Government Code defines them as businesses that operate six or more gaming machines that award small prizes not to exceed $5. However, the types of machines called “eight liners” that award these small prizes have led to lengthy debates about their legality.
While two gaming bills filed by Rep. Charlie Geren and Sen. Carol Alvarado would look to develop resort-style casinos in Texas, Texans should not expect them to solve the problems associated with Texas game rooms.
Lubbock County Commission ultimately unmoved by game room shooting
The Lubbock County Commission had tabled discussion on game room regulation until September to better examine how to budget the initiative. However, hours after their decision, they found out about a series of shootings around 92nd Street and Avenue P and County Commissioner Jason Corley changed tack.
“The events of today’s shooting at a local game room are an unfortunate reminder of the need for regulation and oversight by law enforcement in the gaming industry in Lubbock County,” stated Commissioner Corley to FOX-34 Lubbock.
He went on to draft a press release leaning even harder into the need for regulation.
“The current lack of regulation,” stated Corley, “has created an environment where criminal activity thrives in game rooms ranging from money laundering to drug dealing and human trafficking.”
Language of the Lubbock game room proposal
Lubbock County’s game room proposal amended chapter 234 of the Texas Local Government Code to include the following language:
In accordance with the authority and provisions of chapter 234 of the Texas local government code, restricting the number of game rooms within Lubbock county, providing for an application process, providing for other regulations, providing for a civil penalty for violation of these regulations, and providing for related matters. The Lubbock County Commissioners Court hereby designates and directs the Lubbock County Sheriff and his department to enforce these regulations.
Perhaps in consideration of the fatal shooting, County Sheriff Kelly Rowe addressed the designation of the sheriff’s department as enforcers of the proposal stating that they simply did not have the bandwidth or resources to enforce yet another regulation.
Commissioners Terrence Kovar, Gilbert Flores and Judge Curtis Parish ultimately opposed approving the regulation until budgetary issues and input from concerned citizens could be properly assessed.
In the end, the County Commission voted 3-2 to leave game room regulations tabled until September.
Lubbock County supporters in favor of regulation
The split decision regarding the proposal to regulate game rooms in Lubbock County meant that there are many reasons for and against it.
The supporters arguing in favor of legalization feel as though these game rooms can be better monitored to ensure they are safe environments for patrons. If so, they would provide a good form of entertainment. Regular follow-ups would decrease the amount of violence and nefarious activities that happen undetected.
Another topic would be tax revenue. Each county that regulates game rooms takes a certain percentage that would go back to the community. As an example, some counties contribute gambling revenue towards supporting their state’s public education system.
Reasons some are against the legalization of game rooms
It is known that many of the underground game rooms not only involve gambling but other activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution and human trafficking.
While regulating game rooms in Texas would help ensure the rooms are safe, others believe the proposal would just end up legitimizing unwelcome activities.
Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe told Fox-34, “All we’re doing is creating an umbrella of legitimacy over an otherwise illegal business in order to go onto full enforcement which would take tremendous resources.”
Rowe’s concern spoke to the need for law enforcement to not just speak out against game rooms but to regulate them with fidelity. Where law enforcement cannot be available to enforce game room regulations effectively, officers like Rowe worry that citizens will disregard the law.
Texas casino bills won’t solve Texas’s game room problems
There are currently two bills being proposed in Texas that will play a role in moving casino gambling forward.
- Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth is behind House Joint Resolution 97. This bill prioritizes the state’s parimutuel racetracks. There are three in Texas. If passed, it will also increase the number of gambling licenses that are distributed in existing mutual spaces.
- Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston is backing Senate Joint Resolution 17.
PlayTexas has evaluated the similarities between the two bills, which were both created to develop resort casinos in Texas. Both bills would require the creation of a new Texas Gaming Commission and allow retail sports betting.
While both touch on slot machines and casino gaming, they do not address or attempt to regulate game rooms. Instead they focus on “destination resorts” and not small operations such as eight-liner game rooms.
At present, the Texas law has tackled game rooms in two ways.
First, the Legislature has put the onus on local governments to regulate them. Some have done this while some, including Lubbock, have not. Among those local jurisdictions that have regulated game rooms, some have done so with an eye to providing revenue for the community, as the south-Texas town of Elsa has done, while other have regulated them with the goal of shutting down illegal activity, as Lufkin has done.
The second approach has been to prove in court that eight liners are unconstitutional. A Fort Worth Appellate Court decided last April that they were, but this ruling will likely be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. Until this happens, Texas’s cities and counties will be left with the troubling task of trying to determine how best to handle the prevalence of game rooms and their attendant problems through local ordinances.