Gambling with the Law in East Texas
POSTED: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 11:42pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 1:09pm
It's a common sight in Wood County.
Gambling machines are set up in local businesses and people are seen playing them at all hours of the day.
But the Wood County Sheriff tells KETK, what they may not know, is the majority of the time, they're illegal.
Especially, when money is involved.
Reporter: "So, any amount of money would be illegal? Even if you're getting back a couple dollars? Sheriff Bill Wansley: That's illegal."
According to state law---- a person commits an offense if he or she plays and bets for money or other things of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls or any other gambling device.
It's a Class C Misdemeanor and you could go to jail.
But, how do you really know if they're legit??
Most people would think fancy stickers from the state are a clear indication.
But, they are incorrect.
Sheriff Wansley says, "They have to have a number from the Comptroller's office on the machine to operate it."
Sheriff Wansley tells KETK, the sticker makes it legal to be there.
The owner of the machine pays a fee to the state.
And the comptrollers office will come inspect them.
But that's all the control the state has.
In April, Wood County Sheriff's Deputies seized more than 100 gambling machines, guns, drugs and more than 25-thousand-dollars in cold hard cash.
All-- in three seperate busts.
Sheriff Wansley says, "By word of mouth is how they found out about these places."
Each venue was elaborate.
But the most elaborate of the three--- was on Highway 17, where 54 machines were seized in the raid.
Sheriff Wansley says, "It was set up more like a casino that you would go to in a larger area."
Sheila Wright is the Manager of Lake Fork Family Dining also called "Debbie's Dream."
The restaurant opened last December and actually shares a building with the former game room.
Wright says, "Me, myself and the owners, had no problem with them being here. The problem --- is it was illegal."
And once she says they figured that out, they cut off all ties.
Wright says, "We wanted it out of there."
Wright tells KETK, she remembers the bust like it was yesterday.
Wright says, "Right before it happened this parking lot was full of people for next door."
And she says, she's relieved it happened.
But unfortunately, the restaurant took a hit.
Wright says, "I don't think we should have to pay the price for them. We just need everyone to know, we had nothing to do with the game room."
Seven people were arrested and charged with their involvement in one of the three illegal gambling establishments.
Some were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.
Others were charged with operating a gambling place.
Wright says, "They get a slap on the wrist, but it affects the rest of us tremendously."
But, these buildings aren't the only venues to offer gambling inside.
Sheriff Wansley says, "A lot of convenience stores I'm sure have 8 liners and stuff in there. If they pay out money, they're violating the law."
At several gas stations in Wood County, people we spoke with say, there were 8 liners inside.
So, we checked them out for ourselves.
And, we found three of them had at least two machines inside.
All of them, according to experts we spoke with, are illegal.
Even the ones that don't pay out money are breaking the law.
Khurram Khalid is part owner of a Mobil Gas Station in Mineola.
He tells KETK, an average of 20 people a day play gambling machines inside his store.
Khalid says, "Well, I thought that it was legal for you to get tickets and pay in store credit. You can't pay in cash, but you can do in store credit."
Experts say, there appears to be a belief among game room operators, like Khalid, that as long as they don't pay out cash, their operation is perfectly legal.
But thing is, the person who wins, still gets something in return even if it is store merchandise.
Reporter: "And so what does in store credit mean? Like, what can they get?" Khalid: "Pretty much anything from inside the store." Reporter: "According to what we found out, state law, that that's illegal. Especially cause you've had these machines in here for two years." Khalid: "Well yeah."
Khalid tells KETK, the most a person actually won was $220.00 in store credit.
Khalid says, "If it is illegal, we'll get rid of them, but we didn't know that until now. I thought it was legal."
It's a statement, much like all the other gas station owners we spoke with.
Sheriff Wansley says, these illegal gambling operations revolve around quick money and convenience.
Wansley says, "It was a place for people around here to go to and they didn't have to go to Oklahoma or Lousiana."
But he says, the best thing to do, is stay away from these types of machines, and instead, head East to Louisiana, where you know it's perfectly legal there.
Wansley says, "When they go to an establishment that's doing this, they run a risk of perhaps being there when law enforcement steps in."
Making you guilty, by association.
To read the Gambling statute from the penal code as well as the definitions of gambling in Texas--- check out the attached document.
|Gambling Texas Penal Code sec.pdf||95.37 KB|