City constrained on game room regulations

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In the wake of Nov. 1 raids that prompting the closing of three game rooms for an array of violations, the City of Fort Stockton is looking at its options for the future.

However, because the city operated as a General Law Type A city, its options are limited.

A General Law Type A form of government limits governmental structures and powers to those specifically granted by state law.

In contrast, the Pecos City Council banned game rooms in August 2018, citing building code violations, illegal gambling and other criminal activity. The city was able to make the move because it is a home rule city.

A home rule city means the power lies with the local city or county to set up its own system of self-government without receiving a charter from the state.

Game rooms are identified as any other commercial business, making the management harder for a city under General Law Type A.

“The way it stands now is they are allowed if they comply with the law,” City Manager Frank Rodriguez III said.

Rodriguez said discussions are under way on what it would take to become a home rule city.

He said that since there were violations found in the Nov. 1 raid, the city can do more frequent checks, just as it would do with a restaurant breaking health code.

“We would increase monitoring to stay in compliance,” said Rodriguez.

Police Chief Robert Lujan said an issue with the game rooms is that stolen property the selling and purchase of stolen items inside the game rooms.

Lujan said community policing and reporting of violations will help enforcement.

“It's not going to fall on a deaf ear,” said Lujan.

The Raids

The Las Maquintas Game Room, 302 N. Main St., the Ocean King Game Room, 315 N. Main St., and the BlackGold Game Room, 1012 N. Butz St., were each ordered closed for various code violations following simultaneous raids Nov. 1 coordinated by the Fort Stockton Police Department, Code Enforcement Department and the Pecos County Attorney's Office.

In addition, the owner of the Las Maquintas will be charged with keeping a gambling place after police reported finding a loaded weapon and an undisclosed amount of cash. The currency and gaming machines were seized as evidence.

The game rooms will remain closed until compliance is reached.

Lujan said that the police had received many complaints on the establishments and wanted to inspect the buildings.

In the game rooms investigators found raw human sewage and dead rats among the games. The raids also found plumbing violations, a lack of required restrooms for the building capacity, people sleeping at the sites, illegal wiring, an absence of properly maintained fire extinguishers, failure to post smoking signs, cooking and serving food without permits, bugs, alcohol on site with no required license and locked emergency exits.

A game room is legal in Texas. It is defined as a business with six or more video slot machines. The caveat is that no money is allowed to be won. Prizes can be won, with a gift card or ticket carrying a maximum value of $5.

Owners

The buildings housing game rooms in Fort Stockton are all owned and then leased out for gaming establishments.

• The building at 1012 N. Butz St. is owned by Flor Montoya of Odessa and leased to BlackGold Game Room.

• The Las Maquintas Game Room at 302 N. Main Street is called “Video and Computer” on the Pecos County Appraisal District website. The game room is owned by Thao Do. The building is owned by Cary Scarbrough

• The Ocean King Game Room at 315 N. Main St. is owned by Chang Huynh. The building is owned by Juliana Sanchez and Felix Garcia of Phoenix.

This creates a problem for the Pecos County Appraisal District as game room owners will list the physical address of the game room – and not their personal address – making it harder to contact them for any reason.

The property owners often are not involved in what is happening at the game rooms.

In February 2017, an investigation conducted by the Department of Public Safety and the Pecos County Sheriff's Office of six gaming rooms resulted in the arrest of eight people on charges that included gambling, gambling promotion, keeping a gambling place, and possession of gambling device equipment. Among the game rooms raided was the Ocean King.

Unlike the Nov. 1 raids, the violations were all gambling related.

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