TEXAS VIEW: Illegal gambling far from a victimless crime

By Victoria Advocate

Game rooms continue to darken Victoria.

The popularity of the gaming business is growing as new game rooms pop up on a regular basis. The gaming public notices.

Drive by any game room any time, day or night, and the parking lots are full. It is hard to believe so many people are flocking to these businesses to collect cheap non-cash prizes as their winnings, as state law mandates. Just the opposite is happening — gamers are getting their winnings paid in cash prizes that far exceed the $5 maximum set by the state.

The city police recently raided a game room, arrested employees and seized illegal gambling equipment and cash.

One raid is not going to get the attention of those who are operating the facilities illegally.

We understand it takes time to investigate complaints and to make cases that will stand up in court, but it is time for more intervention.

It is time the police, sheriff’s office and district attorney join together to declare war on illegal game room operations. It is time for the agencies to actively enforce the laws on the books, which will drive the illegal operators out of business and out of town.

It will be tough to enforce the terribly convoluted law enacted by Texas legislators. Police rely on complaints from the public to start investigations. People who are breaking the laws tend not to snitch on one another for fear they too will be investigated.

But it is obvious the owners/managers have no regard for the law. Even after the police chief talks to them face to face to explain the city ordinances, the state laws and the consequences of breaking the law, many still operate the game rooms illegally.

The game rooms generate enormous amounts of money. Some officials estimate close to $1 million a year leaves Victoria from the game rooms to elsewhere as a front for other illegal activities such as drug dealing and human trafficking. This is far from a victimless crime.

Even the criminals who commit crime at the game rooms will tell you the illegal activities go unreported for the most part. Recently, a man on trial for robbing a game room said he did so because he did not think the owners would report the robbery.

Law enforcement must continue to hold game rooms accountable. A task force of the city, county and district attorney’s office would help weed out those operating illegally.

Our state legislators could make law enforcement’s job much easier by clarifying this terrible law. At the same time, lawmakers should reconsider the hypocritical world they have created of promoting and operating a state lottery but not allowing casino gambling.

Let the public decide whether gambling should be legal or not. If the public wants it, then we should reap its economic benefits and tightly regulate the industry.

In the absence of clear leadership from the state, Victoria and other Texas cities must fight to keep from being dumping grounds for criminals.