Gaming ordinance passes at City Council
A gaming ordinance tabled at last week’s Beaumont City Council meeting passed unanimously on Tuesday, June 10, with a few changes.
The gaming ordinance, which police say will serve as a tool in the fight against illegal gambling in the city, and will regulate legitimate gaming businesses through licensing and permits, faced some scrutiny after an amusement machine vendor complained the ordinance was “overbroad,” first during a workshop held on May 13 and then again at last week’s June 3 meeting when the measure was to be up for a vote.
Jake Plaia asked that businesses in which he has machines, and all other businesses that have five or fewer machines, be excluded from the proposed ordinance, which defines a gaming site as a location with any amusement redemption machine, often called an “8-liner.” Plaia also objected to the use of the term “unrestricted” when referring to law enforcement’s and code enforcement’s access to the premises as written in the ordinance.
Plaia’s attorneys reportedly submitted a substantial brief to council members May 30 in an effort to make changes to the ordinance, and Councilman W.L. Pate asked that the ordinance be tabled for a week while he and the other council members who had not had a chance to do so reviewed the information prior to voting. Despite some councilmember’s reported readiness to move forward with a vote, it was mutually agreed to table the ordinance for one week.
The ordinance appeared on the agenda again for a vote June 10. At that meeting, City Attorney Tyrone Cooper said that in consideration of Plaia’s objection to the term “unrestricted,” the word was taken out of the ordinance language.
“To take out ‘unrestricted’ actually does not harm or have any negative impact on what we are proposing,” Cooper explained.
Councilman W.L. Pate addressed those gathered to say he was always in favor of a gaming ordinance but still has issues with some of the stipulations in the ordinance. He mentioned negative connotations associated with designating a location a “gaming site,” based on the term being used by the Nevada Gaming Commission and others. He also took issue with the $200 application fee, saying that it was unreasonable for businesses that have fewer than five machines, calling it an “undue burden.”
“I’ve never been anything but supportive of the ordinance,” Pate asserted. “One of the things I want us to keep in mind are the people that actually operate legitimate businesses, not people that are running illegal activities. And the last thing that I’d like for us to consider is rather than charging people that are legitimately operating a business that is not illegal in a place that’s open to the public, and in their cases already regulated by TABC, to not charge them $200 for obeying the law.”
Pate said those businesses with few machines would likely rather have the machine taken out than pay such a high licensing application fee. He said he has no objection to the $15 per machine annual permit fee.
Some other members of council also voiced concern over the application fee that would be assessed for locations utilizing amusement redemption machines. Councilman Mike Getz said he felt the application fee was too high. He also remarked that he has no love for the “8-liners” but they are protected under the law.
To those gathered for the meeting, Getz said, “I don’t really like seeing them, but they are legal and they are recognized as being legal. I’m not so sure that we need to have a permitting (licensing) fee of $200 with an annual renewal of $100. I think that might be unnecessary. But I do think, and maybe this is a compromise, but I do think that we should require every machine in the city to be registered with the city and have that $15 permit fee that’s talked about in the ordinance applied to that machine. I do not have a problem with that, and I would support something like that. I think that the $200 is somewhat of an arbitrary number.”
Councilman Audwin Samuel chimed in, saying he too thought the fee was excessive and suggested a lesser application fee that he felt should reasonably recoup any enforcement costs and man-hours associated with the permitting process based on an earlier suggestion from Councilman Alan Coleman, who recommended a “sliding scale” for the application fee based on the number of machines within an establishment.
“I would say one to five (machines) at $50, and then five or more $100, and if that’s not enough to recoup the cost, we will revisit,” Samuel said. “I would say the renewal would be the same. I would put that in the form of a motion, that we accept the ordinance as presented with the exception that as far as the fees associated, one to five would be $50, greater than five would be $100 with the annual renewal of the same.”
Mayor Becky Ames added that the $15 annual permit fee per machine would still apply.
The council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance with the changes Samuel outlined.
Beaumont Police Department Sgt. Mike Custer said he is relieved the ordinance finally passed council scrutiny.
“We’re extremely pleased that the council has provided us with this tool,” Sgt. Custer said. “We believe it will impact the city in a positive way. We’re aware of the workings of these game rooms and how they tend to exploit the citizens of Beaumont. This ordinance will be an effective tool in policing those sites.”
The ordinance takes effect on August 1 of this year.
Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.