CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Chief Deputy David Cook with the Nueces County Sheriff's Office went to Nueces County Commissioners on Wednesday to advocate for an ordinance regulating game rooms.
We've previously reported that game rooms are legal, but some that are illegally operated can sometimes draw in other crimes.
Outside the city, there are six game rooms in operation that are known. The number within the city is not entirely known because they come and go so quickly.
“Upon discussion with CCPD command personnel, staff personnel attest to me that there are at least 100 active game rooms in the city of Corpus Christi," said Cook. "Five of those are known to be operated by gang members.”
Texas Local Code states counties have the ability to regulate game rooms and require permits.
Cook reviewed four counties that enacted game room ordinances: Caldwell, Bell, Victoria and Tarrant. What he found is all four are not being enforced because either commissioners did not provide funding for enforcement, there was a lack of communication between departments or a combination of the two.
He laid out four points that must happen to be successful.
- The ordinance needs the support of all law enforcement in the county to participate in enforcement.
- The county needs the backing of the district attorney's office.
- The county needs the backing of the county attorney's office.
- Commissioners have to fund the campaign.
Cook estimated that for the first year, the sheriff's office would need $446,000.
“If you pass a game room ordinance and you don’t properly fund the office for game room administrator, you’ve done nothing more here than pass an unfunded mandate," Cook said. "And I guarantee you nothing’s going to change.”
“Guys, if we don’t do something, there’s going to be 150 game rooms and whether or not bingo goes away, game rooms pray on the most vulnerable people in your community,” said Ronnie Baker, Roy Bingo Supplies and bingo advocate.
Angelica Hernandez of the D.A.’s office spoke up during public comment. She told commissioners they’ve worked with city police on stopping illegal game rooms for a while, but haven’t heard from the sheriff’s office.
“When the sheriff’s department wants to sit down at a table with the Nueces County District Attorney’s Office and figure out how we beat this together, we’re going to sit down with them just like we did with CCPD," she said. "Maybe we do it as a collaborative effort.”
Commissioners encouraged law enforcement to begin the process of drafting an ordinance, but sheriff J.C. Hooper stood up to say he doesn’t believe an ordinance will be effective.
“Creating an ordinance that is addressing the game room industry, as it looks this exact moment in time, is going to be frivolous," he said. "Because they will adapt, they will adjust, they will modify to the point where the ordinance will not be enforced.”
One game room owner said there are a few places that are ruining it for the rest. But he said if the city wants to regulate, by all means do so. It might scare off the bad apples.
KRIS 6 News reached out to several other gamer rooms that did not respond back.
An ordinance would allow law enforcement to charge illegally operated game rooms with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail and up to $4,000 fine. Civil lawsuits could also be pursued.
To watch the discussion at commissioner's court, you can watch on their Youtube page.
CCPD Chief Mike Markle updated City Council in December about their efforts against illegal game rooms. You can watch that meeting here.
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