City ready to put squeeze on game rooms

The Odessa City Council is betting new measures they plan to adopt next week will make it more difficult for game room operators to stay in business and discourage others from setting up shop in the city.

Council members during their Tuesday work session eagerly embraced several proposed ordinance amendments that will severely limit when and where game rooms can operate. Mayor Javier Joven said council will vote on the amendments during their Oct. 12 meeting.

“We’ve all received multiple calls about (game rooms),” Joven said on Tuesday. “It’s my opinion that if somebody wants to blow their social security check at one of these places, it’s their right.”

But Joven added, many of the 23 game rooms currently operating in Odessa are running illegal operations by paying customers cash prizes and are hot beds for illegal drugs and other criminal activity.

“Everyone knows the reasons why they are proliferating,” Joven said.

Under the proposed amended city ordinance game rooms would be prohibited from being located within 1,000 feet of another gaming establishment, church, educational institution, healthcare facilities, public building or the boundary line of a residential zoning district, Planning Director Randy Brinlee explained to council.

That proposal may have to be changed to 300 feet which is state law, cautioned City Attorney Natasha Brooks, who said she will have an answer by the time council votes next week.

A location exemption will be granted to any gaming operations that can offer proof that the business has operated at the same site, and under the same name and ownership prior to Dec. 1, 2021, Brinlee said.

Police Chief Michael Gerke said the proposed amendments will close several loop holes that several local game room operators have been using to thwart police.

Gerke noted that police have shut down several game rooms in recent years, only to see them reopen under another person’s name a few days later.

The proposed ordinance amendment also will only allow new game rooms to open up in areas already zoned light industrial and heavy industrial districts. The businesses will also be required to have 30 paved parking spaces plus one space for every one hundred square feet of floor area over 2,000 square feet.

Game room hours of operation would also be limited to 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday, Brinlee said.