A Harris County man is suing to get out of a partnership that owns two Hitchcock game rooms, asserting, among other things, that a public employee of either the city or county government is aiding the other two owners in operating an illegal gambling parlor.
An attorney representing Muhammad Zubair Safdar filed suit against Creative Establishment, Zeeshan Rajpute, of Sugar Land, and Sarwar Jawad on Sept. 4 in the 405th District Court, seeking between $100,000 and $500,000 in damages.
The defendant owners, however, argue they aren’t operating illegally, Zeeshan Rajpute, said.
“Everything is by the book,” Rajpute said. “The city, the sheriff and the state comptroller have been out and we’ve passed with flying colors.”
The lawsuit also lists a John Doe employee of either the city or Galveston County as a defendant, court records show.
Texas outlaws gambling and electronic gambling devices, but allows an exemption for businesses that offer small non-cash prizes, limited to $5 or 10 times the cost of playing the game, whichever is smaller.
“The two men were very comfortable giving out cash without even making appearances to hide it,” Altaf Adam, the attorney representing Safdar, said about the named defendants. “They were confident they would be in it for the long run. As to what guy or girl inside the city, that will come out in discovery.”
Mayor Dorothy Childress did not respond to several requests for comment about the claim that a public employees was assisting in illegal gambling in the city. Interim police Chief Michael Allen said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit and referred questions to Childress.
Game rooms are a divisive topic in Hitchcock. The city makes about $400,000 a year, about 8.6 percent of its revenue, from fees charged to game-room operators. Hitchcock is cash-strapped and is trying to find ways to correct a $900,000 budget deficit going into the new fiscal year.
While game rooms can be operated legally under state law, law enforcement officials say they typically aren’t and argue the game rooms are public nuisances that attract other types of crime and undesirable behavior.
Safdar, Jawad and Rajpute formed Creative Establish LLC, each with a 33 percent ownership stake, to hold and operate two game rooms in Hitchcock, according to the lawsuit.
The partnership opened Lone Star Game Room and Luckey’s Game Room in Hitchcock, according to the lawsuit.
But once the game rooms were opened, Safdar came to suspect the other two men were operating illegally by paying out cash to winners, despite the fact they had agreed not to do so, the lawsuit asserts.
“Zubair confronted Zeeshan and Sarwar, but they informed Zubair that Zubair is not a partner in the game room, but instead is an investor and as such, Zubair has no say so as to how the business will be operated and that the cash payments will continue,” according to the lawsuit.
“They further represented that they have an inside person who works for the authorities and that this person is a secret partner in the game rooms,” the lawsuit asserts.
The secret partner ensures the game rooms aren’t investigated and works to shut down competing game rooms, the lawsuit asserts.
Safdar then asked for the other two men to buy his shares, return his investment and give him his share of the profits, but they won’t, according to the lawsuit.
Officials with both the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office and the sheriff’s office said Thursday they hadn’t received a complaint about the lawsuit’s claims, but said that they would investigate it if someone filed a report.
The filing does not give dates for when the events happened, court records show.
The defendants have not yet responded to the lawsuit, court records show.