Two women were arrested and charged with gambling promotion in Port Arthur, Texas, in November. In both cases, the women had overseen the illegal operation of so-called eight-liner machines.
The arrests came following undercover operations by the Port Arthur Narcotics and Gun Unit. The operations are among the latest efforts by Texas officials to stop the spread of illegal gambling involving controversial machines.
At present, Texas sports betting and casinos are illegal, and eight-liner game rooms exist in a legal grey are that results in raids such as this.
Employees of the game room, laundry were separately arrested for gambling promotion
Eight-liner machines operate much like video slots. The games feature three spinning columns. The player wins if they stop with identical symbols in eight different lines (three horizontal, three vertical, two diagonals).
According to 12News, Ngan Kieu To was arrested and charged with gambling promotion on Nov. 4 while working at Lucky’s Game Room in Port Arthur. According to detectives, officers removed the facility’s permit to operate the machines and shut down the room,
“Due to multiple violations.”
There had been arrests at Lucky’s Game Room before for similar offenses. For example, in Feb. 2020, there was another arrest at the location, also for gambling promotion.
A week later, on Nov. 11, authorities arrested and charged Vivian Uyen Nguyen for the same offense while working at the Maytag Laundry in Port Arthur.
‘Fuzzy animal law’ provides a loophole exploited by eight-liner machine operators
Eight-liner machines have been the focus of controversy in Texas for many years. Texas law prohibits most forms of gambling. However, a statutory amendment added in 1993 allows such games,
“Solely for bona fide amusement purposes.”
The amendment restricts rewards from such games and,
“Noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties” worth $5 or less from a single play.
Many call the amendment the “fuzzy animal law.” The nickname reflects the amendment’s intention to allow such games to award children’s prizes like stuffed animals or toys. However, many retailers have exploited that exception over the years, causing the games to increase. Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz explained to the Texas Standard the regarding workarounds some employ.
“The operator would say, ‘well, I’m not giving cash, I’m giving $20 worth of groceries. I’m giving a debit card that you can compensate at a local store,'” Saenz explained.
According to Saenz, some of the games’ establishments clear tens of thousands of dollars each night.
Indeed, the now-shuttered Lucky’s Game Room described above is an example of an “amusement center” where eight-liner machines were the central attraction.
Machines have prompted multiple legal efforts to stop the spread
In late 2018, State Representative Richard Peña Raymond proposed a bill specifically designed to prevent the spread of eight-liners. If passed, the legislation would have prohibited all eight-liner machines statewide, although it would be up to local jurisdictions to allow them.
Raymond’s bill was referred to a House committee early the following year, where it had a hearing. However, the bill remained pending in committee and failed to advance. Raymond proposed similar legislation at the end of 2020, though the bill did not advance once again.
Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, city officials passed two zoning ordinances designed to curb the machines’ spread. One of the ordinances would require operators to obtain a license from the city and pay licensing and inspection fees.
Fort Worth’s actions prompted a lawsuit with the case landing in the Texas Supreme Court late last year. From there, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the state’s Court of Appeals to rule on the games’ constitutionality.
In any event, both the eight-line games and the legal machinations surrounding them continue.