Cited game room operators say they didn’t know the law

Van’s Grocery on Avenue A (top), Shanghai Amusement and Lala Gift Shop

As five Beaumont businesses prepare to answer charges related to illegal gambling following an October 2014 raid, other local proprietors charged with violating a Beaumont ordinance are saying they had no idea the ordinance applied to them or, in some cases according to the city attorney’s office, that such an ordinance even existed at all. 

In addition, one offender who received multiple citations for violations pertaining to the use and licensing of amusement redemption machines and the establishments in which they are utilized recently requested a specific use permit for gaming at his business on Avenue A, and then was ticketed while the request was being considered.

Beaumont Police Sergeant Mike Custer said the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office is working the cases against the subjects of the raid at this time, but he and other local law enforcers are hard at work enforcing the city’s gaming ordinance that went into effect Aug. 1, 2014. Officers have been writing citations for violations at a number of Beaumont locations, and Sharae Reed with the city attorney’s office said many of those receiving tickets have claimed they did not know about the gaming ordinance or that they believed it did not apply to them.

“There have been numerous ordinance violations so far,” Reed said in March.

She said ticketed violations thus far include operating a location with five or more machines without a permit, smoking in the establishments, and others, including operating behind tinted windows, which Reed says mimics a darkened casino atmosphere and makes it difficult to tell time, presumably keeping their clientele at the machines for longer.

Reed said several violators have appeared at municipal court to argue their ignorance since ordinance enforcement began in earnest in November 2014, but Custer says they were warned.

“We (identified) 41 gaming sites and had officers go into every one of them and hand-deliver a copy of the ordinance after it passed,” he said. “Then, we waited to start enforcing until some time after that. They knew about it.”

The Beaumont City Council addressed one of the owners of a local convenience store who was applying for a permit to operate 12 amusement redemption machines, aka 8-liners, inside his store. Son Tran of Van’s Grocery at 3890 Avenue A in Beaumont applied for a specific use permit to allow a gaming room in a neighborhood commercial district, and an agenda item addressing the request went before the city council May 12. City administrators recommended the council deny the requested permit.

The administration’s recommendation for denial of Tran’s request for the specific use permit that would allow him to operate the gaming site at Van’s came after he reportedly already violated the city’s gaming ordinance. According to information from the city, an inspection of Van’s was performed May 1. Officers discovered a total of nine 8-liner machines allegedly operating illegally at the location. Tran was issued citations for operating an unlicensed gaming site and operating nine unregistered gaming machines.

Tran indicated on his application that he intends to award gifts worth less than $5 as prizes, but documents provided to the City Council from city manager Kyle Hayes question Tran’s claim.

“Information received at this time indicates that the owners are illegally paying out cash on the machines,” reads the council packet.

Statistics regarding criminal activity and calls for police service were also included in the council packet. According to those statistics, from January 2010 to present, police have received 74 calls for service from Van’s location, including one homicide call, two calls reporting robberies and 10 calls pertaining to narcotics violations, among others. From the general area of the location, city administrators report, police received 99 calls complaining of or reporting crimes including, but not limited to, prostitution, narcotics activity, assault, indecent exposure and shots fired.

City Manager Kyle Hayes said the administration was recommending denial of the permit because a gaming site at the location “would not be compatible with the surrounding area.”

“In looking at the totality of all circumstances surrounding, particularly the number of offenses, the number of reports that have been reported there (at Van’s), and even the death of an individual there, I am not supporting it,” said Ward 3 City Councilman Audwin Samuel of the permit request during the May 12 meeting. “I believe there’s not been enough shown to me to show that the well-being and safety of the surrounding community is going to be addressed, and without something to give more assurance to that, I could not support this particular application.”

Council voted unanimously to deny the specific use permit allowing gaming at Van’s as requested by Tran.