Game rooms with 8-liner machines are turning out to be profitable for many Texas counties, even though law enforcement is spending time as well as resources raiding and shutting down these establishments.
A recent raid conducted by five different law enforcement agencies, including Chambers County Sheriff’s Office and the Baytown Police Department, netted $8,000 along with several financial documents, gaming control boards and gambling propaganda. The raid happened June 21 at Bubba’s Redneck Racing Parts in Baytown. Instead of selling racing auto parts, the building contained multiple 8-liner machines.
Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said the manager, Ethel Teal, was arrested for money laundering $2,500 to $30,000, a state jail felony that carries with it a $6,000 bond. He added she has already bonded out of jail.
“She was doing all of the payouts,” Hawthorne said. “We feel it is at least temporarily shut down, and we hope it is permanently shut down as a gambling operation.”
Baytown PD had a huge hand in helping bring down the illegal gambling establishment.
“We are always happy to be able to assist Sheriff Hawthorne and his team in their efforts to reduce crime in our community,” said Lt. Steve Dorris, Baytown PD spokesman. “Closing down these types of illegal gambling establishments are just a part of our continued efforts to ensure a high quality of life for the citizens of Baytown and Chambers County.”
Recently, another game room in South Houston was raided, this time by Pct. 1 Constables in Harris County. Seven people were charged with money laundering, and authorities said the game room was taking in anywhere from $6,000 to $100,000 a day.
However, according to a series of stories and editorials in the Austin American-Statesman, Texas has collected almost $10 million in licenses fees from the 8-liner owners for over a decade. Counties such as Duval took in $600,000 in 2012 while Gregory County received $800,000 the same year. A 2004 Texas Lottery Commission study said 8-liners were bringing in an estimated $2 billion a year in Texas.
Hawthorne said Chambers County does not receive any tax money from the 8-liner machines. However, he said his county is exploring a state code, Chapter 234, concerning the regulation of games.
“It is a law that allows Harris, Galveston, Brazoria and us to go in and regulate games,” Hawthorne said. “We have just not enacted it yet.”
Hawthorne said he plans to go before Commissioners Court soon to enact the law.
While many of these machines are seen in convenience stores in Baytown and surrounding areas, they are mostly allowed to operate because of the “Fuzzy Animal Exception.” Approved by the Texas Legislature in 1995, the law allows the 8-liner machines (called such since they allow a player eight chances to win) to operate in stores and sometimes strip malls. Legal machines can operate as long as they “have a whole value from a single play of the game or device of not more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once, or $5, whichever amount is less.”
Some feel this is a loophole that allows illegal gambling in Texas, except for some Indian reservations and in boats that sail about 9 miles off the coast in the water.
The game rooms in Harris County with six or more of the 8-liner machines are required to obtain a permit from the City of Houston, the county’s seat. These game rooms are heavily regulated since it is normal for them to gross $20,000 a night at times. Harris County deputies and constables can catch an illegal operation by simply going into a game room, putting $20 into a machine, and making a 30-cent or a 40-cent bet. If they win more than $3 or $4, the attendant can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, possessing a gambling device and receive a year in jail along with a $4,000 fine.
In 2014 and 2015, over $2 million was seized from game rooms by Houston police and Harris County deputies. But the number began to drop in 2016, with only $616,000 seized. Machine-permit revenue also fell according to the Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department. It went from $536,000 in 2014 to $269,000 in 2016. Game room permits revenue declined as well going from $314,500 in 2014 to $99,000 in 2016.
As far as the Chambers County bust, Hawthorne added the investigation is ongoing with a potential of more charges to come shortly.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office, which also played a role in the Chambers County gambling bust, reminds folks that it is not all right to gamble in Texas.
“The law is clear about illegal gambling devices,” said Kevin Lyons, Texas Comptroller’s Office spokesman. “The coin-operated machine law does not authorize or permit the possession, operation or display of a machine prohibited by the Texas Constitution, Occupations Code or Penal Code. As the agency that regulates businesses that offer coin-operated machines for their customers, we take our duty seriously to uphold the law and aid local authorities in stopping wrongdoers.”