County game room regulations were put on a back burner after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August and caused significant flooding across the region, elected officials said.
But a new proposal modifying regulations adopted — and later delayed — last year will likely be back before the court by the end of January, Commissioner Stephen Holmes said.
In December 2016, the Galveston County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 for new regulations requiring game rooms — businesses operating six or more slot machine-type devices — to get permits from the county and be subject to inspections.
Former Commissioner Ryan Dennard, Commissioner Ken Clark and County Judge Mark Henry supported the regulations.
But in January, with a new commissioner on the court, Holmes requested the court vote to delay implementation because of concerns he had about how they would be enforced and over the county regulating inside city limits. That motion passed 3-2.
In May, Holmes said he planned to propose revised regulations over the summer. But game room regulations haven’t been back before the court yet. On Friday, Holmes said those plans had been held up and then delayed by Harvey.
“Things got derailed with Harvey, but I should be presenting something within the next 30 to 60 days,” Holmes said.
The changes he will seek are mainly centered around where the county is able to enforce game room regulations, he said. The restrictions initially proposed involved regulating game rooms within city limits, which supporters said legislation had given the county the power to do and was an important enforcement tool.
But Holmes opposes the county regulating in city limits, he said. Holmes had spoken with some city officials who had concerns with the regulations, he said, but declined to name them. Holmes had not discussed the regulations or heard any concerns from game room operators, he said.
“I haven’t talked to any game room operators — I don’t know any game room operators,” Holmes said. “Without naming cities, there were concerns raised about them wanting to make sure they maintained their ability to regulate.”
Another point of contention he had with the regulations as initially proposed was how they would be enforced. The game rooms were to be regulated by a position established in the county with the title of Galveston County Game Room Administrator, a code enforcement position. But Holmes and Commissioner Joe Giusti wanted to see the sheriff’s office involved.
“Our guy who was going to be the compliance — that’s great but when he goes into one he would probably need law enforcement backup, otherwise it puts him in a bad spot,” Giusti said. “These could be hostile environments.”
Henry has said it is unnecessary to have the sheriff’s department involved because the regulations are essentially code ordinances.
Giusti also had concerns with the county regulating within city limits, he said. The commissioner had heard opposition from one game room operator in La Marque who worried the regulations could put him out of business, Giusti said.
“I said not if you do it legally and follow the law,” Giusti said.
Game rooms have come under scrutiny because many have been a hub for criminal activity, law enforcement officials have said. State law allows game rooms to award winnings up to $5 in value, but law enforcement officials have said some pay out much larger sums.
State lawmakers in 2015 gave Galveston County rule-making authority to regulate game rooms across the county. Galveston is one of about a half-dozen counties statewide that has that authority.