Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputies have recently shipped off nearly 350 eight-liner video slot machines seized from illegal gambling operations in the county.
The haul surpassed the number of machines sold in the previous five years, and opens up county storage space. Deputies had been packing hundreds of machines into storage facilities across the county.
Workers for M&K Recovery Group, a vendor hired by the county, loaded the contraband into 18-wheelers in separate trips over the past month. The company will resell, recycle or break down the machines for parts; the sheriff’s office and district attorney’s office will receive a portion of the proceeds.
Since January 2011, county law enforcement sold off 244 eight-liners for about $28,000, or roughly $115 per machine. The county has yet to receive proceeds from 344 machines hauled away in the past several weeks because the vendor has not sold them. The district attorney and sheriff require the vendor to sell the machines to a buyer who can provide proof of an out-of-state address.
Investigating and shutting down illegal game rooms is a tedious process, and law enforcement seeks to deter the criminal businesses by seizing assets — primarily cash and eight-liners. Game rooms are known as hot beds for other criminal activity, law enforcement officials say.
Assistant District Attorney Brent Haynes, a contraband, bond forfeit and expunction prosecutor, tries civil cases required to forfeit property used by game room operators. Attorneys litigate the cases after a defendant is found guilty of operating illegal game rooms. Game room operators can easily net profits of $500,000 to $1 million annually, Haynes said.
“That’s why it’s important for these places to follow the law,” Haynes said. “Because they take advantage of people who can’t afford it.”
State law allows game rooms to award winnings up to $5 in value, but law enforcement officials say some pay out much larger sums.
But authorities have raided game rooms and found sample $5 prizes on the wall covered in dust, Haynes said. Operators had instead been giving out bigger prizes, he said.
“Sometimes we would see game rooms give out big flat-screen TVs,” Haynes said.
Shutting down games rooms is an ongoing effort. In June, the sheriff’s office seized 72 eight-liners and about $10,000 cash from Happy Days Game Room in Bacliff. The game room operated across the street from a new law enforcement substation. The substation was the former Lucky U game room, which the sheriff’s office seized and repurposed for law enforcement operations.
“What kind of person would run a game room across from a sheriff’s substation?” Haynes said. “But if you see how much money they make, you would understand.”
State lawmakers gave the county special permission to impose stricter regulations on game rooms in September. The commissioners court has yet to approve rules, which are aimed at forcing out illegal game rooms. The law has been in effect since Sept. 1, 2015.
The sheriff’s office will continue investigating game rooms, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
“I am glad we got them off our hands,” Trochesset said. “I guess now we have room to go get some more.”