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Ten reasons “maquinitas” may be closing

October 10, 2018

HARLINGEN — Is Willacy County like the wild, wild West where anything goes? Right now and for a long time it has been a hotbed for mini casinos operating eight-liners called “maquinitas” in Spanish.

Hundreds of people attend these game rooms thinking they can win big if they are lucky and in plain sight of the law. Here are reasons community leaders and law enforcement are trying to curb these eight-liner facilities.

1. Takes advantage of the elderly

When you walk into the dark murky eight-liner game rooms in Willacy or the hidden ones in Hidalgo County, the first thing you notice aside from all the games are the elderly people fixated on the machines and pressing the spin button again, again and again. Most are playing less than $20 before they move to another machine to slip more $20s hoping to win big. Many of the elderly are playing on their retirement or Social Security checks.

2. It’s unsafe

There have been many reports of game room robberies. In some cases security guards at these casinos have been shot, making it very unsafe for people of the community who believe it’s safe to go. It can become dangerous at any moment.

3. It’s illegal, kind of

Why would any good citizen or public leader want to attend an establishment that may be illegal? Well, for fun and to win money. The “maquinitas” are not illegal to operate, but its illegal to pay out cash winnings. For many years people have played at these game rooms in front of the law. Many times they are raided or shut down but later reopened. Right now four game rooms are in operation with temporary restraining orders after being shut down in Sebastian.

4. No charity

These game rooms do not hand out scholarships at the end of the year like the Elks Lodge does with their bingo earnings. The only free things they hand out are drinks and snacks to keep the gamers playing. The game room profits are not benefiting anyone but the establishment owners.

5. Becomes an addiction

You cannot win all the time. Most times the games are preset to take gamers money more times than hand out winning credits. Players are at the eight-liner front door ready to play sometimes hours before the game rooms open and many stay until the game rooms close. And this is an everyday thing. Only until recently game rooms had to close at a decent hour.

6. Community disruption

Homeowners near game rooms are the first to complain and notice the heavy traffic or danger. Most of the time winners have to go out of the casino in the dark and walk their winnings across the street or to the nearby novelty or We Buy Silver store. Property owners near eight-liners have had unwanted eight-liner customers walk through their property or walk past their homes at odd hours of the day and night on their way to trade silver for cash.

7. The loophole

The eight-liner casino game rooms operate by giving silver or prizes that can be traded for money at a nearby business establishment. Many of the games payout in $5 increments and the credits equal $5 silver pieces that are traded for money.

8. Where are the city and county game room fees going?

Willacy County is one of the poorest counties in Texas. Each game room pays fees for operating the game room and in most cases pay a fee for each eight-liner game. Most game rooms have more than 100 games to play. Where are those city, county and state taxes going? And where is the money going that is seized during raids. Gaming eight-liners is a multi-million dollar business. They don’t help the community and their customers often walk out empty handed.

9. Everyone knows

The police know, the mayor knows, city leaders know but it is difficult to shut them down. Police must wait for something terrible to go wrong before long investigations are complete to raid the eight-liner sestablishments.

10. Injustice to the Indian casinos

Until then the gamers will continue to come back to Willacy County to play more games with the spinning wheels and sounds that make it fun until all their money’s lost. Traveling to Kickapoo Casino who has the legal right to operate is a far drive when there are “maquinitas” in the Rio Grande Valley.

rgarcia@valleystar.com

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