Tarrant County commissioners approved a list of requirements Tuesday for game room owners in an effort to regulate the businesses, which some believe attract crime and traffic.
The ordinance, adopted unanimously, requires permits for game room owners. The regulations, set to go into effect April 1, 2020, include:
- A permit to operate
- Hours limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Game rooms cannot be within 1,500 feet of a school, church, or residential neighborhood, or within 2,000 feet of another game room.
- Display of signage reading "game room" must be present
- At least two windows must provide "a clear and unobstructed view of all machines."
Under Texas law, game rooms are generally allowed as long as they do not have illegal gambling devices. The popular slot machines, commonly referred to as eight-liners, are legal as long as prizes awarded are non-cash items that are worth no more than 10 times the cost of one play, or $5 -- whichever is less.
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Commissioner Roy Brooks said there are up to 400 known game rooms in the county, attracting crime and traffic among other issues.
In one case, in February 2018, five armed men stormed a game room in Fort Worth and indiscriminately started shooting, injuring one, before robbing some of the patrons.
The new regulations are designed to protect against such acts.
"They can't have blacked out windows. They can't have locked doors," Brooks said, speaking on other newly approved regulations.
What remains unclear is exactly how the county will notify game room owners, as there are some businesses they are not aware of. Brooks said those are the details they hope to "flesh out" between now and April.
A Fort Worth spokesperson said this year alone, the city has executed three dozen search warrants on game room establishments.
At a meeting with the Tarrant County Commissioners Court this week, Fort Worth police Lt. Frederick Long said there are more than 200 known game rooms in the city. When accounting for game rooms the city was not aware of, Long estimated there are between 300 and 350.
"This year, we've had six murders related to game rooms," Long said. "Four of them [were] inside game rooms. Some of them involving robberies."
Brandon Bennett also spoke before the commissioners Tuesday in support of the ordinance. Bennett is the director of Fort Worth's Environmental Health and Code Compliance Department.
"It's not unusual in the city of Fort Worth that we will go in on a gaming complaint and find mattresses in the back for prostitution, that we will see petty crime in a neighborhood," Bennett said. "These are neighborhoods that are most at risk and these are either folks that don't have insurance to replace things that are stolen."
No representatives from game rooms in Tarrant County spoke at the Tuesday meeting, Brooks said.
Brooks said this ordinance is a "first step" in regulating game rooms, but they hope to work with state legislators on closing loopholes such as the definition of a "game room" in the state of Texas.
A town hall meeting hosted by state representative Nicole Collier of Fort Worth is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Tarrant County College Opportunity Center discussing the issue.