Tarrant County Judge Issues Split Ruling in Gaming Room Lawsuit

Expensive legal fight expected to continue

A Tarrant County judge has thrown out key parts of a Fort Worth ordinance aimed at regulating eight-liners and other "amusement redemption machines" but ruled other parts are legal – a split decision that both sides vow to appeal.

Several business owners filed a lawsuit after Fort Worth passed a law in 2014 that limited gaming rooms to industrial areas and said they could not be located within 1,000 feet of any church, school, residential neighborhood, hospital or any other game room.

Tarrant County District Judge Melody Wilkinson struck down those restrictions, ruling they are preempted by a 25-year-old state law that also regulates game rooms.

But Wilkinson's decision means the city could still enforce other parts of the ordinance, which include limiting hours of operation, restricting signage and requiring customers to be at least 18 years old.

The ruling came last month but has not been previously reported.

Attorneys representing the city also had argued that the state law was unconstitutional. But Wilkinson declared that existing state law does not violate the Texas Constitution.


Both sides tried to get the other to pay for expensive legal fees.

In court filings, Stephen Fenoglio, an Austin attorney representing the business owners, argued he and three other lawyers deserved more than $233,000. Fenoglio said he charges $400 per hour.

Shauna Wright, an attorney for Kelly Hart & Hallman, a private firm hired by the city, said she and several associates racked up $178,680 in "reasonable and necessary attorney's fees." She said her hourly fee is $225, but two other attorneys with her firm charge $300 per hour.

The judge ultimately ordered both sides to pay their own legal bills.


Fenoglio said he planned to appeal.

Cindy Vasquez, a Fort Worth spokeswoman, said the city also would appeal.

The case could ultimately end up in the Texas Supreme Court.

The business owners involved in the lawsuit are still operating gaming machines while the court case continues, Fenoglio said.

The city said police may continue investigating gaming operations.

"Nothing in the game room litigation prevents the city from enforcing state criminal statutes related to gambling," Vasquez said in an email. "The city will continue to investigate and enforce these gambling statutes."

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