Local government

BELTON — Game rooms in Bell County will soon have to play by new rules after the county passed updated regulations Monday.

Following months of discussion and input on the topic, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to impose new restrictions on the industry locally. Commissioners delayed the implementation of the new ordinance for 30 days, which is Aug. 18, to give both local businesses and county officials time to get ready.

The ordinance had been delayed multiple times following legal concerns and the steps state law required before it could go up for a vote.

Commissioner Bobby Whitson motioned for the item with a 30-day timeline, citing the county’s original concern of safety issues related to illegally operating game rooms for his reason to move quickly.

“The reason we are putting this into place is public safety reasons,” Whitson said. “We got some game rooms out there that are doing everything that they can to keep their places safe … and to get an application here and move on as business as usual. But those that are not, I would like to see this done sooner rather than later.”

County officials said the ordinance will help local officials regulate and enforce both state and local game room rules. Game rooms, according to state law, would be those businesses with six or more amusement redemption machines that allow players an opportunity to win a prize completely, or partially, by chance.

Under state law, game rooms are allowed to reward players with non-cash merchandise prizes, toys or novelties with a wholesale value less than $5 or 10 times the amount charged to play.

The new ordinance will require game rooms to register with the county, have a label on their front door that identifies them as a game room and have an uncovered window in the front of the store.

Game rooms will also be barred from operation within 1,500 feet of any school, place of worship or residential neighborhood, and 2,000 feet from where two or more other game rooms are located. Owners of game rooms existing before January 2021 will be able to get an exemption from some of these rules.

County officials said those applying for the exemption must do so before Jan. 1 of 2022.

Commissioners assigned the county fire marshal to lead the inspection of game rooms, with all law enforcement officers able to enforce regulations.

County Judge David Blackburn said county officials and advisors had been working on the ordinance for more than a year and thanked them for their help after the item passed.

“Thank you to all the folks who have brought this to our attention and for being patient in the process that we have had to go through over the past several months,” Blackburn said.