News of police raids on illegal eight-liners, or slot machine operations have been increasingly common in south Texas. Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence says that certain cities within the county are making efforts to regulate the operations. But outside of city limits, “game rooms,” are opening up and gaining popularity under the radar of law enforcement.
“You can regulate them to some degree but you can’t keep them from opening, so you have to start watching them pretty closely,” Spence says.
Spence says that usually an operation will open and be advertised as a “game room.” It is against the law to offer monetary reward in the rooms so officials have to be vigilant in monitoring them. Game room operators will often offer cash, credit cards and even bags of silver to be exchanged for money by certain cooperating parties.
Spence says some people argue that the rooms provide social and entertainment opportunities and that they don’t think they should be told what to do with their money.
The problem arises when these setups get big enough to operate like big, unregulated casinos. Spence says that a recent raid targeted a game room with as many as 400 eight-liners.
“When they start to get big, it presents a problem because it attracts a criminal element,” Spence says. “There’s potential for armed-robberies and somebody getting hurt. Some of these things are money laundering places and things of that nature or are tied to cartels. Not all of them of course – some people are just trying to make a living.”
The recent rise in these operations causes many patrons to lose money while the heads of the operations make large profits.
“It’s frustrating seeing these parking lots full and you know these people are making money hand-over-fist and they’re not paying taxes,” Spence says.
Spence says that he’s hopeful that the sheriff’s department will be able to successfully crack down on the gambling operations as long as they know where to look.
Written by Emma Whalen.