AUSTIN State Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Highlands-Crosby) has filed House Bill 1127 aimed at cracking down on undercover Game Rooms in Harris County that have become a breeding ground for illegal activity and crime. Over the last ten years, game rooms have proliferated across much of incorporated Harris County due to increasing regulations under ordinance by the City of Houston.
To fly under the radar, many of these game rooms have changed their business model where restricted access has now become the norm, where game rooms only allow members or known referrals access behind darkly tinted windows and locked doors. This restricted access greatly inhibits even undercover investigations.
Undercover game rooms have become a breeding ground for illegal activity and crime, said Representative Smith. Its time to shine a light on this shady practice by giving the state and law enforcement regulatory authority to crack down on bad operators.
The cash rich businesses have become an increasing target of criminal activity. Since 2007, Harris County has seen ninety instances where robberies or aggravated assaults took place in game rooms in unincorporated areas. In that same time span, five homicides have also been attributed to these locations, including a pregnant woman who was killed when a worker at a game room discharged a shotgun while trying to stop a robbery. It is estimated that an additional twenty five percent of the crimes go unreported or reported away from the game room due to the refusal of game room operators to allow patrons to call police at their location.
Several years ago a crackdown by the Harris County Sheriffs Office and the Precinct 4 Constable on these locations resulted in large seizures of the coin-operated machines, often referred to as 8-liners, for failure to comply with tax laws. Eighty-five search warrants have been executed in game room investigations in the last five years. The enforcement actions resulted in the arrests of business operators for Promotion of Gambling as well as issuance of citations for failing to have current tax permits. These businesses operate under the pretense of providing entertainment only, but clearly continue to provide an unsafe environment.
I am proud to carry this bill on behalf of the families who have fallen victim to the illegal activity and crime, and the law enforcement agencies who need all the tools at their disposal to keep our citizens safe, said Smith.
House Bill 1127 seeks regulatory authority over Game Rooms to ensure they provide an environment safe for patrons and workers and are open to inspection by law enforcement and proper administrative authority.
Representative Wayne Smith represents Texas House District 128, including Baytown, Deer Park, La Porte, Crosby, Highlands, Morgans Point and a portion of Pasadena.