But more than $84,000 in free-flowing cash seized during raids of Beeville parlors earlier this month along with piles of untouched, dust-covered “prizes”—cheap watches and stuffed animals and T-shirts—are vivid illustrations that this is a bald-faced lie, District Attorney José Aliseda emphasized last week.
“No one goes to these places to play for fuzzy animals,” the DA said. “They will not go there to get a fake Rolex or a T-shirt that smells like smoke and has yellow tar film on it. … The prizes were literally yellow from the smoke and the tar and the nicotine collecting from months and years of people smoking in there.”
Beeville Police Department and Bee County Sheriff’s Office hit five illegal eight-liner facilities before 10 a.m. May 12, police reports show. These include the Golds Amusement center in the 600 block of North St. Mary’s Street, the ABC Amusement center in the 1900 block of North St. Mary’s Street, the Diamond Amusement center in the 2200 block of that same street, the Lucky One amusement center in the 800 block of South Washington Street and the Golden House Amusement center in the 600 block of West Corpus Christi Street.
A total of six employees and owners were charged with various gambling-related crimes—including promotion of gambling, possession of a gambling device and keeping a gambling place. All of those offenses are Class A misdemeanors. If convicted on any of the misdemeanors, the defendants could be fined up to $4,000, confined for a year in the county jail or both.
The DA said it is possible that all of those charged with the Class A violations could eventually face indictment on a variety of state jail felony offenses. The prosecutor said that will depend on what the Bee County Grand Jury decides.
Felony charges would include engaging in organized criminal activity, in the event that three or more possible suspects were involved in the operation and money laundering, records show. All six owners and managers arrested had been released on $1,000 bonds the day after the raid.
Customers who were in the businesses at the time of the raids were detained briefly for questioning and given citations for gambling. Those charges are Class C misdemeanors. The maximum punishment for that would be $500 fine.
Aliseda said the officers confiscated $84,500 and change from the five gaming parlors—proof that parlor employees were breaking the law by paying customers in cash.
Aliseda discussed the operation last week with a reporter from The Progress—in the aftermath of the gambling parlor busts—to explain his philosophy moving forward.
“I can tell you, their business model will not work,” the DA said. “In addition to the eight-liners in Bee County, they were starting to pop up in Live Oak County with some rumblings that McMullen was next… We are going to keep an eye out on any possibility of this ever occurring again.”
Aliseda said his next step is to seize the gambling properties permanently.
“I have 30 days to file a notice of seizure and notify all the owners of the property that we intend to keep this property as contraband,” the DA said. “They are dark places, and a lot of money moves through these places.”
The action by authorities has already discouraged a couple of other eight-liner businesses from continuing in the Bee-Live Oak-McMullen area, the DA said.
Customers and managers alike were warned early and often that this crackdown was coming, authorities said.
On April 1, Aliseda coordinated a raid at an eight-liner game room in Skidmore. Authorities seized more than $17,000 in cash, contraband and equipment used for criminal activity. They also seized the building itself as well as the land on which the illegal activities took place. The establishment owner and staff were arrested. The patrons were questioned and informed they would be appearing before a grand jury to answer more questions regarding the eight-liner business.
It was after that bust that the district attorney said as emphatically as he could: “If this doesn’t stop, there are going to be consequences. I’m going to do whatever it takes... These people need to pack up and leave.”
And it worked somewhat. A couple of gambling businesses moving in to the area were scared away.
But the five Beeville businesses did not heed that warning.
The procedure to take down the gambling parlors was relatively easy to follow, Aliseda said. A criminal informant managed to videotape what was happening in the parlors—particularly when the informant was paid cash for a gambling victory, which allowed authorities to get warrants from District Judge Starr Bauer and execute them against the businesses.
“There was so much money flowing through there, and they were such nasty places,” he said. “I mean, you would really have to be addicted to gambling to go to those places.”
The DA said the most reprehensible thing about these gambling establishments is they feed off people with addictions and limited incomes.
“Some of these people were using every penny they had—money they should have been using to pay the water bill or the light bill,” he said. “The money flowing through there was unbelievable. You could make more money in a month from these places than a drug dealer, and you are feeding off addiction just like a drug dealer does.”
Aliseda said he intends to trace the money used in the operation in the hope of coming up with more serious charges such as money laundering.
“It’s my intention to get the manpower I need to do this right,” he said. “This could evolve into very serious cases.”