A man was shot Jan. 26 at a home housing illegal gambling machines in San Antonio. Roland Garcia, 40, died at the scene.
Police found several eight-liner slot machines at the Southwest Side residence. The driver of a car fleeing the scene has been arrested, but the suspected shooter remains at large.
Three people fled the scene after the shooting
Illegal game rooms are prevalent throughout the state in part due to the prohibition on casino gaming in Texas. New ones seem to pop up as quickly as law enforcement shuts some down. Police have said that many of them are also breeding grounds for crime and violence.
The illegal gambling house in question was at a home in the 5500 block of Hayden Drive, near Old Pearsall Road and Ray Ellison Boulevard. Police were called to the scene of the shooting around 10:20 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 26.
Three people, including the suspected shooter, fled the scene in a white Volkswagen Jetta. Two of the three have not been found.
The investigation into the shooting of Garcia is still ongoing, the San Antonio Police Department said.
Crime at illegal game rooms is not uncommon in San Antonio
While someone dying at an illegal game room is rare, crime stemming from illegal gaming operations is not uncommon in Bexar County and in the city of San Antonio.
On Nov. 10 last year, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputies raided two suspected gambling sites. A total of 60 eight-liners were found at the two locations. Eighteen people were arrested and 15 were detained. Police also found a stolen vehicle at one of the scenes.
After the raids, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the operations went beyond illegal gaming.
“There are organized crime ties to this location as well as the other. It is quite possible that since the two locations are linked, there will be charges at a later date of engaging in organized criminal activity.”
Armed guards found at some illegal game rooms
During another double raid late in 2022 by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, weapons, stolen cars, cash and drugs, along with 70 eight-liners, were found. Armed gang members attempted to restrict SWAT access to the locations.
In May last year, SWAT officers had to break through a gate at an illegal gambling house in San Antonio. Again, an armed guard tried to restrict access by police. The gambling hall may have been in operation for more than a decade. Pictures from the scene showed one person in custody and a cash counter with a large stack of money of an unknown denomination.
Law enforcement officers found areas for keno, slot machines and other games. There were dozens of eight-liners, two weapons, an ATM, a safe and $15,000 in cash. Three people were arrested.
Three months earlier, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputies found illegal gambling machines; dozens of guns, some stolen; several cars, some stolen; drugs; and a lot of cash in a raid. Salazar spoke about the brazen nature of the operation.
“I cannot even say they are trying very hard to hide what they are doing from folks, but as we all know, that when you have an organized crime group conducting business like this, it could certainly turn violent at any given time.”
Legalizing casinos in Texas could put an end to illegal game rooms
There’s one question many are asking: Would legalization of casinos in Texas shutter these illegal gambling houses and the criminal activity that goes along with them? Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said in a Houston Chronicle article,
“As long as prohibition exists, you create an incentive for organized criminal activity. It’s no different from alcohol or drugs. As long as the state doesn’t make regulations, it becomes lucrative to those that cater to those that still want to do it.”
Texas state Sen. Carol Alvarado is sponsoring SJR 17 in the Texas Legislature. It would allow casino gambling in four major Texas cities, including in San Antonio, and create a grant for federally recognized tribes to operate their own casinos. State Rep. Charle Geren, R-Fort Worth, has also filed casino legislation. HJR 97 would expand on the number of casino licenses while giving horse racetracks priority in developing casinos.
We will have to wait until May, 1, when the legislative filing deadline hits and bills head to committees for debate. At the moment, Texas residents seem to be on board with casino expansion. Surveys conducted by PlayTexas and the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston show overwhelming support for expanded gambling options in Texas.