Upping the ante

Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham

Fines, forfeitures, pesky court dates for misdemeanor crimes and municipal tickets, permitting processes and police raids … all have failed to deter casino-style game room gambling sites from popping up all over Beaumont. But the fight is far from over, according to those tasked with upholding law and order, evidenced by a recent felony indictment for what typically carries misdemeanor charges.

Since the state legislature penned a “fuzzy animal exception” for gaming laws in Texas and enabled only certain counties to regulate the criminality that followed, the resulting onslaught of “for amusement only” casino dens has proved too profitable for simple regulation, according to Jefferson County officials. According to Texas law, casino-style slot machines, commonly referred to as “8-liners,” are not inherently illegal so long as the “winner” isn’t compensated in excess of 10 times the amount it costs to play the game or property (such as a “fuzzy animal” or stuffed teddy bear) valued at no more than $5. While many businesses that contain a dozen or more of these 8-liner games are considered to be operating within the law unless it’s proven otherwise, police and public officials make no bones about their belief that no business that exists solely as a depot for 8-liners, collectively called game rooms, makes ends meet by paying out patrons in stuffed animals.

Beaumont Police Department’s Sgt. Bobby Anderson, at a raid of a game room where employees allegedly paid out cash to winners on its 8-liners, noted how there were no “fuzzy animals” in the establishment to even pretend to be following the law under that exception.

“No one pays out in stuffed animals,” the veteran officer said. At the time of that raid in 2017, Beaumont boasted 48 registered and city-permitted gaming sites on top of the many Anderson said were operating outside the bounds of the city ordinance.

Frequently, the Beaumont Police Department gathers up the manpower to investigate and ultimately arrest suspected illegal gambling promoters and operators, but as the law only calls for pittance penalties in exchange for the possibility of bringing in big bucks on a tax-free basis, it isn’t long before the exact same character is again caught up in part of the exact same crime, they say. The result is usually the exact same charge.

When police honed in on Moon’s Game Room at the beginning of 2018, things went a little differently. Instead of the usual Class A misdemeanor charges typically levied against gambling purveyors, investigators suggested that charges be filed alleging organized criminal activity – the conviction of which could land a defendant in state jail for a couple years tacked on to a fine of up to $10,000.

“This is how things are going to go from here on out,” Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham said. As the prosecuting agency responsible for meting out the consequences of the criminal behavior taking place at game rooms, the district attorney’s office says it is taking a stance in working to rid communities of the ill-effects of the illegal gambling dens.

“We want to get serious,” Wortham said. “There’s a dotted map the Beaumont Police Department gave us … over 3,000 9-1-1 calls in the radius of these facilities. These places are known hubs of crime.”

An excess of cash tends to draw an unsavory element. Wortham noted that even with the thousands of crimes committed at and near Beaumont game rooms that were actually reported just during the last year, many more go unreported as game room operators are hesitant to call police even when they’ve been robbed at gunpoint.

“If you know you can go rob one and they’re not going to report it, why not do it all the time?” Wortham quipped. And they do, he said.

Cash payout

At Moon’s Game Room, 3430 Concord Road in Beaumont, police allege that an undercover informant witnessed three employees paying out cash winnings to its customers. As a result of an ongoing operation, the confidential witness identified Hung Le, also known as “Bobbie,” Dat Le, and Kim Nguyen as “frequently paying customers” cash at the game room. Beaumont police, serving a search warrant at Moon’s Game Room on Jan. 4, found both Dat Le and Nguyen on-scene with several patrons also on site who were able to confirm accounts that all Moon’s Game Room employees paid cash for 8-liner winnings. Hung Le, said to be the establishment’s manager, was not at the game room when police arrived.

This new warrant served by police wasn’t Dat Le’s first time being accused of gambling promotion at the very same 3430 Concord address, however...

 

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