A large-scale raid of suspected illegal game rooms in West Texas resulted in several arrests, mostly for crimes unrelated to illegal gambling.
Seven game rooms hit in morning raids
Raids of suspected illegal gambling halls across Texas have become commonplace. While some towns are working to regulate game rooms that use eight-liner slot machines, most other Texas towns choose to shut down these illegal businesses through raids.
On Nov. 16, local, state and federal law authorities raided seven suspected illegal game rooms. Five were in the city of Levelland, with one each in Anton and Opdyke West. Twenty-four arrests were made related to several suspected crimes, including drug trafficking, illegal gambling, prostitution, illegal weapons and conspiracy.
Around 150 law enforcement personnel from Hockley County Sheriff’s Office, Cochran County Sheriff’s Office, Levelland Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI led the raids.
Eleven people were arrested on suspicion of prostitution, drug and gambling offenses. One of those was also arrested for violating parole. All 11 suspects could face additional charges for organized crime as well as financial crimes.
The remaining 13 arrests were for suspected federal crimes. They face methamphetamine and weapon trafficking charges as a part of a larger operation.
Officials say game rooms draw worse crimes
Hockley County Sheriff Ray Scifres said the raids were part of a law enforcement operation over the last year.
“This has been a year in the making. I know folks would ask the question, ‘What are we doing about game rooms?’ Well, we have been for the last year working on these game rooms and then today finally arrived.”
Scifres said these game rooms have become epicenters for organized crime. The combination of illegal gambling and organized crime has allowed these spaces to grow in a dangerous way.
“We have been saying that these are a safe haven … for folks to engage in criminal activity. And it ranges from narcotics trafficking, narcotics possession, weapons trafficking, weapons possession. So, the importance of it is not just the gambling operations. It is what it allows. It is what actually is drawn to these locations, and I think that is what we disrupted today.”
Acting Special Agent Jim Dwyer of the FBI said the arrests on federal charges were related to an indictment earlier this month.
“While much of the community slept this morning, the FBI and our law enforcement partners executed 13 arrests related to our operation. A total of 18 defendants are charged with an array of federal crimes, including distribution of methamphetamine, unlawful possession of weapons and conspiracy. Most of the federal subjects also have pending state charges. I will note that the subjects I mentioned here are in addition to the game room subjects that the sheriff mentioned earlier. We are sending a loud and clear message to criminals that we will continue to exercise our collective strength to protect the communities that we serve.”
In addition to the raids, nearly a dozen other people face federal charges in connection to an extensive methamphetamine trafficking ring. Authorities have not said whether the arrests were related to the raids, but the timing is suspicious.
Crackdown on game rooms continues across Texas
The raids show that without regulations and safety, these game rooms thrive. Providing a regulated gambling market would shutter these places by giving customers a better alternative. It is not a secret that these illegal businesses seem to pop up as quick as authorities shut some down.
On Nov. 10 in Bexar County, 33 people were detained at two illegal gambling sites. Police also seized a stolen vehicle. Sheriff Javier Salazar of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said, “There are organized crime ties to this location as well as the other.”
In the same county three weeks earlier, police raided two other suspected illegal gambling sites, where they found drugs, weapons and stolen cars.
On Feb. 16, Bexar County deputies raided another illegal gambling site. It had an armed gang member as a guard, dozens of guns and dozen of cars, some stolen. Salazar pointed out how dangerous these game rooms can be.
“I cannot even say they are trying very hard to hide what they are doing from folks. But as we all know, when you have an organized crime group conducting business like this, it could certainly turn violent at any given time.”