|Big cities such as San Antonio and Houston have seized hundreds of video slot machines in the four months since the latest court ruling affirming their illegality in Texas, but smaller communities have been slower to pull the plug on the '8-liner' devices. |
In order for a prosecution to be successful, 8-liner operators usually have to be caught in the act of illegally awarding cash or other valuable prizes. As a result, some towns are ignoring or tolerating the devices while players hail the recreation and economic activity they provide.
In larger Texas cities, the pursuit of violators has been especially vigorous in recent weeks. More than 200 machines were seized Thursday in Harris County's Precinct 4 after officials said they were deluged with complaints about illicit gaming. Last week, Brownsville police confiscated about 100 machines, and in San Antonio, police said raids are practically a daily occurrence, part of a cat-and-mouse game with operators.
Even with 23 vice squad officers, San Antonio has trouble keeping up with 8-liner machines found in bars, game rooms, meeting halls, convenience stores and unmarked storefronts. The vice squad continually chases big operators but also responds to citizen complaints about mysterious gambling businesses that crop up in strip centers and vanish just as quickly.
'The stance we're taking is very aggressive,' said San Antonio Police Lt. Sonya Domingues, who oversees the vice squad. 'That's why the warehouse is full,' she said. The city has 1,200 machines locked up as evidence and may have to find more storage space, officials said. (Why they donít turn the Evidence Warehouse into a giant casino, who can guess?)
What makes the investigations tricky is that 8-liner machines are not illegal per se. The Supreme Court ruling said the devices are used legally only if they award noncash prizes worth no more than $5 -- or 10 times the amount of a single play -- whichever is less.
Clifford Herberg, a local county district attorney, acknowledged a widespread public perception that 8-liners provide harmless fun, but he noted that Texas lawmakers have repeatedly balked at fully authorizing the devices, as they did lottery and bingo games.
'These 8-liners here in San Antonio and elsewhere in the state are being run on roughly 50-50 payouts,' he said. For comparison, Nevada establishments must pay at least 85 percent in prizes, and many offer more than 97 percent payouts due to competitive pressures, Herberg said.
In Texas' 8-liner parlors, he said, 'people are just getting screwed, for lack of a better term.'
Still, their appeal is undeniable. Some parlors offer free taxi service and free food. They provide hours of excitement in facilities that operate around the clock. But Herberg said the bottom line is always the same.
'This is not a state-sanctioned form of gambling. 'They say there are no victims, but there are. A lot of those people don't realize how badly they're being taken by these operators,' Herberg said.