Southeast Texas has been a hot bed for illegal game rooms. Orange County, Beaumont, Port Arthur and others have seen them popping up in clusters, mostly in unincorporated areas. Some SE Texas police shut down illegal game rooms while others wait.
The problem area in these adult game rooms are eight-liners. They are slot machines that pay out cash or cash-redeemable prizes. Adult arcade operators like to think eight-liners exist in a legal gray area.
They point to a stipulation in the Texas Penal Code charmingly dubbed the “fuzzy animal” exception. The name comes from the rationale that gaming devices that award prizes, like stuffed animals, are permissible under the law.
This interpretation of the law has resulted in game rooms opening across southeast Texas. At a hearing last year in Orange County, a Mauriceville man noted that eight new game rooms had opened along a two mile stretch of Highway 12.
Another person noted seeing children in pajamas wheeling suitcases into these establishments. People have complained that their neighborhoods have become red light districts. But with a new county ordinance in place and investigations underway, it seems authorities are beginning to get the upper hand.
Court deems eight-liners illegal in Texas
In April, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth’s ruling on Fort Worth v. Rylie said eight-liners do not fall under the fuzzy animal clause. The court labeled them lotteries and deemed them illegal.
The defense can still appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court, technically creating some legal wiggle room for game room operators. However, law enforcement agencies no longer need to entertain the fuzzy animal argument.
Texas counties must make own game room ordinances
While the appellate court ruling gave legal precedence to regulate illicit adult arcades, the responsibility to shut them down goes back to a 2019 legislative decision authorizing counties to regulate game rooms. There are 254 counties in Texas, and not all of them have had the time to draft these ordinances.
Orange County did so in 2021. The result has been an increase in investigations and shutdowns, both voluntarily and from police raids, of dozens of game rooms.
Jeremiah Gunter, constable of Orange County Precinct 2, has shut down nine arcades for adults in Mauriceville alone. Gunter previously worked in adjacent Jefferson County. After adopting their own ordinances, he knocked down the number of illegal game rooms in the county from 23 to eight.
Last week, three more Orange County adult arcades were shut down. Two came as a result of compliance checks for small infractions (fire code) and large ones (gambling-based transactions). The third occurred during a hunt for a fugitive.
The Orange County Narcotics Division visited the Fuel Mart Game Room in Rose City in search of a fugitive. While there, they noticed a clerk paying out a patron in cash for gambling winnings. The game room was shut down indefinitely.
Law officers don’t agree on enforcement
Detectives working these southeast Texas cities have noted a variety of crimes funneling through game rooms. People come in with stolen cash looking to parlay it into something bigger. They’ve also seen drug trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution.
What’s more, an undercover detective noted to the Port Arthur News:
“A lot of times these places are robbed, aggravated robbery and they don’t report it because of the illicit and illegal activity there. They don’t even want law enforcement there to help with the robbery.”
As a result, investigations into these adult arcades can last months.
Part of the reason law enforcement is slow to crack down is due to inactivity on the part of local police. Some are waiting to see if the Fort Worth v. Rylie ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Vidor Police Chief Rod Carroll expressed his reluctance to making law.
“I’m waiting on the appellate court to deal with the issue and then we’ll take appropriate action. We enforce the law, not make the law.”
It’s unclear why all police in Texas aren’t utilizing the current appellate court ruling to shut down eight-liners. One possibility is not wanting to devote resources to a legal precedent that could be soon overturned. Less likely is the thought of being sued by these game room operators.
Despite the uneven legal response in some cities, game rooms are shuttering in Southeast Texas. As investigations continue and cases are built, some operators may even face federal charges for things like wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, as we’ve seen in Ohio.