The debate over game rooms moves to the Nueces County commissioners court Thursday as that body considers an ordinance regulating the industry here.
The ordinance which county commissioners consider on Thursday would limit several aspects of the game room industry. And those who work in that industry say the ordinance, as it’s written, would be devastating.
The ordinance targets rooms which operate illegal eight-line machines. However, most game rooms in Nueces County use legal sweepstakes machines.
“There are currently operating more than a hundred game rooms, bars, and sweepstakes rooms of various kinds,” said sweepstakes machine vendor Doug Wells.
Among the differences, a sweepstakes machine runs with defined odds of winning. Credits are bought from a cashier, who distributes winnings afterwards. Eight-line machines can be set to pay out more or less, and take and pay out cash.
“If something is being run legally, within the confines of the law, certainly you need a compelling reason to change it,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney.
The ordinance would require permits for game room operators. It also calls for game rooms to close between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Wells predicts that edict would cost hundreds of employees their jobs.
“Even if they grant licenses to people, you still have the entire evening shift, which is everyone’s largest crews, out of work,” said Wells.
Chesney promised to go into Thursday’s presentation with an open mind.
“This is why we have two sides to every story,” said Chesney. “We want to hear presentations from both sides to see what the situation is.”
Some feel the cash-based nature of game rooms attracts illegal activity, especially after 9 p.m.
“Most of these places that stay open at night have security guards on the premises,” said Wells. “You can make that a requirement if you’re worried about customer safety.”
In February, a security guard was shot at a Southside game room. Wells believes his industry is as safe as other cash-heavy businesses.
“So are laundromats, convenience stores, most bars, restaurants, they make most of their money with cash as well,” said Wells.
Last year the state legislature passed House Bill 892, which gave the power to regulate game rooms to individual counties. That bill became law in September 2019.