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Cities need control over game rooms

September 26, 2018

Every city council in Southeast Texas — and the entire state, for that matter — should do what their counterparts in Beaumont did on Tuesday: Approve a resolution asking the Legislature for more authority to regulate game rooms. Then the House and Senate need to act on these requests in the session that begins in January and pass legislation that lets cities dial back the problems associated with them.

Game rooms are technically legal, but almost any police chief or sheriff in Texas would affirm that they often attract more than a little illegal activity, like robbery and assault. One Beaumont council member bluntly called them “crime magnets,” and they have also been linked to drug sales or prostitution. These council members intimately know the people and neighborhoods they represent. They are not imagining anything or overstating the problem.

This is precisely why Beaumont and other cities are trying to control game rooms more. A few months ago, this battle was playing out in Orange County, where local governments pushed back against their spreading influence. Now the struggle has shifted to Beaumont. It could be anywhere else in the region in a few months.

That’s because game rooms often close down when the legal pressure gets too great in one place and pop up somewhere else. Most are in convenience stores, where they can be classified as “accessories” to the main operation. Cities have more authority to regulate larger game rooms with more machines, but they need greater controls over the smaller outlets too.

The very existence of game rooms is puzzling in a state that’s generally unfriendly to gambling. Most game rooms feature “eight-liners,” coin-operated gaming machines similar to slot machines. Some game rooms have as many as 60 machines.

Currently, game rooms are banned within 300 feet of churches, hospitals and schools, and they must licensed. One option the Legislature should consider is giving cities the ability to ban game rooms within 1,000 feet of each other and also limiting the number of machines in one location. Beaumont council members said Ward 3 and Ward 4 are “saturated” with them, with 37 in the entire city. A heavy concentration of them also discourages legitimate businesses from opening up nearby.

If the Legislature approves this authority and some cities decide not to use it, that’s their business. But most will take advantage of these changes to cut crime in a very direct way. They know what they want to do; all they need are the tools to accomplish the task.

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