Arnold addressed the Refugio County Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning, March 26, in hopes of doing something about the growing number of eight-liner businesses in the county.
“An acknowledgement is made that there are revenues to be gained by the various municipalities and taxing entities within Refugio County in permitting and licensing the operation of these eight-liner machines,” Arnold said.
“But a greater argument is to be made in respect to that which will obviously be lost by allowing this unwholesome activity to continue to operate with minimal restrictive regulations, namely, the moral fiber of our communities, more specifically our children’s welfare as they become the prey for those who will stop at nothing to appease their depraved appetite in this respect,” he said.
The county has a $400 permit fee per machine. The fee generates $17,000 a year at the game room in the old Refugio bowling alley, $800 a year from the Woodsboro area and $2,000 a year from the Austwell-Tivoli area.
Commissioner Stanley Tuttle noted that the Woodsboro City Council during a special meeting Monday night raised its city permit fee for the machines to $5,000 a machine from $500 a machine.
Arnold said the current court repealed a court action in 2003 that banned the eight-liners.
But apparently, that ban was never put into an ordinance or resolution form.
“I think we need to have a brainstorming workshop with the county and cities,” Tuttle said.
Commissioner Ann Lopez said she was unaware of the court’s previous action to ban eight-liners in March 2003.
The court in August 2011 set the permit fee at $400 per machine.
“The operators of these establishments apparently see a welcome mat,” Arnold said.
Lopez said at the time the permit fee was set, she had asked if the eight-liners were against the law.
“I was told, ‘No, they can do it,’” she said.
She said the unsightly buildings on the Woodsboro square could benefit from the game room business, as could the landowners.
“It can be a very tempting activity. I don’t see that it is a sin,” she said.
However, Lopez said she has seen older people spending their money at the establishments and losing it. “Not a good thing,” she said.
“Cities have gone forward because it’s an avenue to raise funds. I see both sides,” she said.
Tuttle said the 2003 ban was not brought to his attention, as well.
Tuttle deferred to County Attorney Todd Steele.
Steele said the county has some options: Continue welcoming game rooms and collecting fees; do nothing; take action to remove them altogether; or do some combination of the above options, including investigating what is going on at the establishments.
“I endorse what Brother Jimmy said,” Steele said.
He added that the county or cities should make sure that there aren’t illegal activities occurring.
Chief Deputy Sheldon Wigington told the court the Sheriff’s Office periodically does walkthroughs of the game rooms and he has had no complaints about them.
Tuttle said he talked to San Patricio Sheriff Leroy Moody who sent out a letter to the 45 game rooms in his county, telling them to shape up because he was going to crack down on them.
Tuttle said armed robberies were beginning to happen with that many game rooms.
“It was just a matter of time before somebody got hurt or somebody got killed,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle said Moody gave them 30 days. But all of them shut down within that time frame.
“The next thing is, one by one, they started to open again,” Tuttle said.
Questions were posed: “Why are their windows black, and why on some of them are the doors locked?
County Judge Rene Mascorro said the court needs to know if the county can ban the eight-liners when the state doesn’t.
“Can the county supersede state law?” he asked.
Steele was asked to research the question.
Commissioner Gary Bourland was on the commissioners court when it banned the machines in 2003.
“I still agree with the 2003 decision,” he said.
“We’re going to have to regulate them. We know that they are in business to violate the law,” Bourland said.
“And it’s all going to stem to one thing –enforcement,” he added.
Bourland said law enforcement shouldn’t patronize the game rooms and that a workshop should be called to change the employee policy on it.
Commissioner Rodrigo Bernal said he hadn’t heard about any complaints or increases in violence in his precinct.
However, he said the game rooms should be regulated and checked out periodically.
The court set 9 a.m. April 5 for a special workshop on the subject. The court invited all city government officials to attend as well as law enforcement personnel.