Years after getting permission from the Texas Legislature to regulate game rooms in unincorporated areas, Galveston County has finally begun issuing permits to the controversial businesses.
The county April 1 began enforcing its rules for game rooms, including requiring the businesses to register, officials said.
As of last week, 10 game rooms had either been permitted or had permits pending, said Garret Foskit, the county’s nuisance abatement program supervisor.
Three of the game rooms are in unincorporated Alvin, in west Galveston County and three more are in Bacliff, in the east. Two are in San Leon and two more in Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula.
Foskit, who has worked for the county for 24 years, is in charge of receiving and vetting game room applications, and inspecting them for compliance with the county’s rules.
It’s a completely new job within the county, Foskit said.
“The newness of the program makes this job challenging,” he said. “There are issues that come up that require research, coordination and consideration before acting on that delay the process.
“Every form and letter has to be created from scratch, which also takes time.”
In December, county commissioners approved new rules that required that game rooms — businesses that contain six or more electronic gambling machines — to apply for and receive permits, or else be fined up to $10,000 a day.
Applying for a permits costs $1,000 and game-room owners must submit to an inspection by the county. Game-room owners must also identify themselves to the county or else face more fines.
State lawmakers gave the county the ability to regulate game rooms in 2015, but it took more than four years for commissioners to hire Foskit and approve rules to regulate game rooms in unincorporated areas of the county.
The goal of the regulations is to reduce some of the nuisances that officials say are brought on by game rooms. County law enforcement officials have said for years that some of the businesses violate state gambling laws by paying out cash prizes, or that they attract other kinds of crime and bad behavior.
While officials denied the goal of the new regulations was to eliminate game rooms, it appears to have some effect on the number of businesses that are in operation. When the county approved the rules in December, there were 15 game rooms in the county.
Since the new rules went into effect, the county has not fined or seized property from any game room operators, Foskit said. To do that, the county would need to file criminal charges against the businesses though the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, he said.