Gaming ordinance on city attorney's desk
An attempted aggravated robbery at a game room in Beaumont that resulted in the violent death of one suspect has brought illegal gaming into the spotlight once again, and city leaders and police say they are taking the gloves off in their fight against the criminal enterprise that they believe inspires a variety of illicit activities. An ordinance regulating gaming and intended to combat illegal gambling is “on the city attorney’s desk,” Beaumont Police Department Chief Jimmy Singletary said at a town hall meeting Thursday, Sept. 26, sponsored by Solid Rock Community Church, Youth Young Adult Fellowship Alliance, H-E-B and the Beaumont Police Department.
The attempted aggravated robbery that was a hot topic of discussion at the meeting occurred late Tuesday evening, Sept. 17. According to a report from BPD, patrol officers responded to the reported aggravated robbery of D’s Gift Shop, a game room in the 3600 block of East Lucas, at about 9:30 p.m. A clerk working in the game room told officers three men attempted to rob him at gunpoint. Sometime during the robbery attempt, the owner retrieved his handgun and exchanged gunfire with the robbery suspects. After the exchange of gunfire, all three suspects fled on foot.
When officers arrived, they located one of the suspects near the game room. Duayne Deandre-Devon Smith, a 25-year-old resident of Port Arthur, was dead and appeared to have been struck by a bullet in the exchange of gunfire.
A preliminary press release from BPD said officers had not located the remaining two suspects. The game room clerk was not injured during the robbery attempt.
The clerk described one of the other suspects as a black male with dark skin and short hair. He was wearing a white T-shirt with below-knee length shorts with white stripes. He wore brown work-style boots.
The clerk described the second suspect as a black male wearing all black with a light-colored shirt he used to cover his face. He wore white sneakers.
Both suspects were last seen running east toward the Plymouth Village Apartment Complex in the 5800 block of Helbig.
BPD Sgt. Rob Flores said, as of Oct. 2, police are still searching for the suspects.
At the Sept. 26 meeting, Beaumont City Councilman Audwin Samuel said he believed the attempted robbery at the game room was a result of potential illegal gambling at the game room.
“I’m going to keep it real,” Samuel said. “(The deceased suspect) saw illegal activity going on and prospering. He thought, ‘Why can’t I prosper too?’”
Beaumont City Councilman Jamie Smith advised citizens to take action to stop illegal gambling by reporting it to police when they observe it or any unlawful activity.
“Call the police and keep calling,” Smith recommended. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Be patient, keep calling, and we will handle the problem.”
“We can accept these things as injustices, or we can work to make them stop,” Samuel agreed.
BPD Chief Singletary said he and his team of officers have raided “over 14 gaming facilities” and “seized almost $80,000” from illegal gambling dins since the beginning of the year.
BPD Sgt. Mike Custer has been fighting against illegal gambling for years, from time spent in the Dallas metro area to his current position in Beaumont. Custer said profits from illegal gambling enterprises often are sent overseas and the money is no longer in circulation locally. In fact, Custer claims the game rooms and operators are basically robbing area citizens and increasing crime rates.
“The proposed ordinance has been a long time coming,” Custer said. “The burr under my saddle is the exploitation of the citizens of Beaumont.”
Custer told a story related to a raid on an illegal gaming enterprise from a few years ago. He said he found five post-dated checks written by an elderly woman from Beaumont. He called her to let her know he had possession of the checks and requested information from her about potential illegal gambling at the game room from where the checks were confiscated. The woman would not cooperate and eventually hung up on the officer. Undeterred but discouraged, Custer said he reached out to a relative of the elderly woman, her son. When he explained the situation to the man, he was shocked and told Custer he had wondered where his mother’s money was going since she was on a fixed income and could afford no such expense.
“That stuck with me, and that was what fueled this,” Custer said regarding the proposed gaming ordinance, which he originally drafted but has since been revised with the help of staff from the Beaumont city attorney’s office.
Custer said the proposed ordinance would likely require a tax and city license, in the form of a decal, for each arcade-style machine, often referred to as “8-liners,” at a game room.
“The purpose is to identify and license gaming locations in the city of Beaumont,” Custer said. “It does not permit illegal gambling. It provides that the owner of a gaming location fill out an application and obtain a permit to run as a gaming location in the city of Beaumont. They will have to have a sign of specified dimensions naming the facility as a game room. They will have to have stickers (license decals) on each individual game. They have to comply with all laws that apply to game rooms and coin-operated amusement machines.”
When asked how the gaming ordinance that requires licensing could help combat illegal gambling, Custer said that at least with the ordinance officers would be allowed access.
“What this is going to allow us to do is effectively police gaming locations, which up to now we have been very limited in what we could do,” Custer asserted. At this time, he said, only the state comptroller has the right to check for required licenses. Many game room owners have been able to keep police at bay up to now by allowing entry only to “members,” but the proposed ordinance would change that. “This will give us a tool to police the game rooms. Officers or any city official will have the right to inspection, and penalties will be assessed for refusal.”
Vidor Police Department Assistant Chief David Vandegriff said he believes a similar ordinance that took effect in Vidor at the beginning of the year has had a “positive” effect on decreasing illegal gambling because it allows officers access to the facilities and “brings them into the light,” giving them more cause to “play fair,” in his opinion. He said he knows at least a couple of game rooms that “didn’t want to operate in the light” have shut down.
“I have gotten less calls from people claiming that (game rooms) are out there paying cash,” Vandergriff asserted. “Most of the operators have come in and complied with the licensing process. One thing that is positive is that the fees that are charged pay the city back for resources to enforce and regulate the game room.”
“This is something that is really needed,” Custer said of the Beaumont gaming ordinance. “There are so many crimes associated with illegal game rooms.”
Custer mentioned the recent violence that started with an aggravated robbery attempt and ended in the shooting death of the 25-year-old suspect, Smith. He said officers have also received calls from disgruntled gamblers regarding theft.
“We even get calls from customers upset that they did not get their illegal payout,” Custer related. “It’s very ironic.”
Senior Assistant City Attorney of Beaumont Quentin Price confirmed there is an ordinance pertaining to regulating gaming in the works that would eventually be presented to City Council for approval, but said he could not provide specific details. No time frame as to when the ordinance could appear on the council agenda was provided.
Jennifer Johnson contributed to this report.