Bell County commissioners will continue to refine regulations on game rooms and their operations Monday.
The proposed regulations — modeled after a similar ordinance in Victoria County — would restrict where gaming businesses could be located, their hours of operation and enforce state laws on prizes won from the machines.
Commissioners delayed voting on the ordinance in October to allow for further discussion on the matter. The commissioners will hold a virtual workshop on the issue at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Although Commissioner Bobby Whitson said a number of reports had been received about local game rooms with illicit activity, he said he is not against game rooms in Bell County.
“I want the opportunity for a legal game room operation to continue if it can operate within our ordinances,” he said during a Monday meeting.
Whitson’s concerns did not lie with currently legal game rooms in Bell County, but with any illicit activity that could be occurring behind the scenes. He also noted how one of the primary objectives under the current ordinance draft would be to provide local law enforcement and public safety officials with better tools to stop those illicit activities from occurring within game rooms.
“The proposed ordinance is basically allowing an official to go in and check the books at one of the game rooms,” Whitson said.
Whitson previously stated how some local game rooms were discovered to have eight-liner machines that give away cash prizes — an illegal operation he said is known to breed other forms of illegal activities such as prostitution and drugs.
But Jesse Lee Myles, a local game room operator, said his business already has measures in place to prevent illegal activity.
“At our game room … as far as my risk mitigation ... we have security from dusk to dawn,” Myles said. “We have a no backpack rule, and we don’t just allow folks to loiter around the building. We have our certain measures to help prevent those illicit activities … including 16 cameras that cover everything.”
Myles told the commissioners about a recent incident during which his business helped local law enforcement with an arrest.
“A couple of weeks ago in Temple, there was somebody that had a warrant,” he said. “It was a federal organization that came and got them, but we told them the person was here as a tip.”
Myles said he is not against an ordinance being adopted if it benefits the wellbeing of the county, but would like commissioners to understand the implications of the ordinance as it stands.
“I want to state that I’m all for a county being hurt by anything that should be regulated,” he said. “But the ordinance that is being proposed right now is really hurting any entrepreneur that wants to start a (game room) business. It’s discouraging and it’s not permitting that.”
Whitson thanked Myles for his dialogue during Monday’s meeting, as he was the first game room owner that commissioners reportedly had spoken with.
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.
State law also defines a game room as a for-profit business, or a business that contains six or more redemption machines, which allow players an opportunity to win a prize completely or partially by chance.
The current draft of the ordinance would allow certain exceptions for bingo halls.