Bexar County Sheriff’s Office personnel recently raided two gambling houses set up in two residential San Antonio neighborhoods. Sheriff Javier Salazar said the raids yielded dozens of eight-liner machines, weapons, stolen cars, cash and drugs.
Eight-liner machines technically illegal in Texas
Texas government officials have struggled to deal with eight-liner slot machines. An appellate court recently labeled them lotteries, making them technically illegal. The only legal lottery in the state is the Texas Lottery.
Police raids of suspected illegal adult arcades occur consistently all over Texas. They seem to do little to control the problem.
Various illegal activities uncovered in raid
Fortified gates and armed gang members restricted access to both buildings, Salazar said of the raids in San Antonio. SWAT officers had to ram the gate at one location on Guadalupe Street to enter the property.
Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) officials later confirmed that at least 20 people with suspected ties to outlaw gangs were detained. The alleged illegal activity was occurring close to elementary schools, which Salazar found particularly troubling.
“With an organized crime group, like an outlaw motorcycle gang, operating in the middle of a neighborhood, obviously bad things are going to happen. … Kids are going to school back and forth through here and you’ve got organized crime going on. So we’re happy to shut both of them down for now.”
According to BCSO, approximately 70 eight-liners were present at the two locations. Investigators are in the process of gaining access to the machines to determine how much money they contain.
One city tries a different approach
Rather than enduring raids that distress the community, some small towns in Texas are taking a different tack when it comes to eight-liner machines.
With a population of 7,200, the city of Elsa is located in South Texas just a few miles north of the Mexican border. Like many other small, rural cities, Elsa is constantly looking to expand its economic base, so the city recently passed a series of ordinances to allow eight-liner game rooms.
Elsa City Attorney Gus Acevedo knows that in order to be successful in their attempt to legalize game rooms, they will need a strict permitting process in place. Elsa will authorize only five game room permits for large-scale operators, Acevedo said. All applicants for a game room license will also need to pay a one-time, non-transferable and non-refundable fee of $50,000.
With such strict requirements, Elsa hopes to weed out the seedier establishments that have caught the ire of many Texas law enforcement agencies.
While it may seem like Elsa is fighting a losing battle, the city does have help in the form of the Texas Game Room Owner’s Association (TGROA). The organization, a 501(c)(3) based in Austin, provides legal counsel for cities, game room operators and investors interested in launching viable game rooms under lawful ordinances.
Are game room raids just ‘policing for profit?’
Harris County records show that from 2014 to 2019, police agencies raided 89 game rooms more than once. Several, more than eight times.
Critics say this cycle is nothing more than “policing for profit.” Records show a pattern of police work where police raid an establishment and seize the cash and a few machines. Often, no charges are filed. No one comes forward to contest the confiscated money, so law enforcement agencies can keep it.
In that same five-year period, Harris County law enforcement agencies seized over $17 million. The money could be used at its own discretion as long as it funded “law enforcement purposes.”
A vacant middle ground
While the Bexar County raids represent symptoms of Texas’ illegal gambling market, do towns like Elsa provide the solution? And if not, what is the middle ground?
Raids are a dangerous proposition for the community, as are seedy game rooms that go ignored by the police. On the other hand, elevating eight-liner game rooms to venues that are immune to crime is a risky task. One that may not be easily undone.
Texans deserve a gambling market that is not relegated to the margins and the murky gray areas of the law.