In its meeting Thursday, Nov. 8, the Vidor City Council heard the first reading of an ordinance meant to deter illegal gambling utilizing amusement machines and keep game rooms’ patrons safer, according to Vidor Assistant City Attorney Frank Messina.
“Eight-liners” is the term commonly used to describe coin-operated amusement machines or slot machines. The eight-liners used in illegal gambling rooms are only supposed to be used for amusement, not gambling. Legally, players can be offered prizes in value up to $5. Any amount over that or anything paid out in cash is not legal.
Ordinance No. 1172 would amend Chapter 14 of Vidor’s Code of Ordinances to add Article XI, Amusement Redemption Machines, which would “provide for the regulation of amusement redemption machines commonly described as eight-liner or slot machines; requiring a regulatory enforcement license and occupation tax permit; requiring the city to perform inspections to determine if the permittee and/or licensee is complying with the ordinance; providing penalty not to exceed $500, permit/license revocation, and sealing for the violation of the ordinance. …”
Chief Dave Shows of the Vidor Police Department said at a Town Hall meeting at Vidor City Hall in October that his office knows there is illegal gambling going on in his city, but his department could not afford the expense of an investigation. Shows said the game room operators kept the doors locked and without probable cause, he could not forcibly enter the premises. At that time, Shows said he thought one way to combat the game rooms and their proprietors is to hit them where it hurts – in the pocketbook. He said he was planning on proposing a tax of $250 per month per machine on the amusement machines to the Vidor City Council in order to deter illegal gambling and to help the city economy.
“I know illegal gambling is going on in this city and I am taking steps to make sure the city does well from it,” Shows said. “My ultimate goal is to get them to leave.”
The new ordinance, if accepted, changes the playing field quite a bit. Changes include the addition of new fees for game room operators. Sec. 14.452 (a) of the ordinance states, “An owner, operator, or lessee of an amusement redemption machine game room shall be required to secure a regulatory enforcement license annually. An amusement redemption machine game room shall be required to secure a regulatory enforcement license by paying to the City an annual inspection and regulatory enforcement license fee of $800.00 for each amusement redemption machine. The regulatory license fee is implemented to cover the costs to issue the licenses, regulate the amusement redemption machine game rooms, and to determine whether the provision of his ordinance are complied with.”
Messina said the licenses would likely be decal stickers placed on each machine similar to the state-issued permits already required. The ordinance also adds a $15 occupation tax permit fee for each machine. Messina said the city with the help of Chief Shows approximated the cost of enforcement when calculating the $800 license fee.
“We anticipate it would cost around $870 per machine to enforce,” Messina said. “We don’t want citizens to pay a penny of that out of their taxes.”
Another change game room operators would have to make if the ordinance is passed would be to the shuttering and blacking out of windows of the buildings. Sec. 14.453: Transparent, Uncovered Windows Required (a) reads, “Every game room shall have transparent unobstructed windows or open space on at least one (1) side so that the area is open to view by the general public passing by on a public street. The owner, manager or employee of a game room shall not permit any obstruction of such public view by the use of drawn shades, blind, partitions, tinting or other structures or obstructions.” The requirement may be waived if the structure is deemed to have historical or architectural significance.
Messina said he agrees with Shows that game rooms operating illegally are a problem in the city.
“It’s a real issue in Vidor,” Messina said. “Chief Shows said he conservatively estimates there are 130 machines in Vidor. … People find ways to skirt that law in every way. Some of them give out gift cards instead of cash. That is still illegal. The ‘fuzzy animal law’ was originally designed to allow operators to give out prizes, like stuffed animals.”
Messina said the city originally looked into the ordinance after hearing stories from patrons of game rooms who said they were locked into the game rooms.
“We have a lot of concerns with the fire safety codes,” Messina asserted. “The impetus behind this is that we heard about people being locked into these places. … That could be really problematic if there was a fire. … The fire marshal will be inspecting these places and the police officers and code enforcement will be going frequently. We think it is warranted.”
The second reading of the ordinance will occur during Vidor’s next City Council meeting Thursday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. at Vidor City Hall, 1395 N. Main St. Messina said if the ordinance is passed in later vote, it would take effect in January 2013.