The Refugio County Commissioners Court discussed the answers to the game room question at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 28.
Commissioner Stanley Tuttle said he placed the item to increase the fee per game room machine on the court’s agenda because in August 2013, the court agreed to align fees with municipalities in the county, which currently are at $1,000 a machine in Woodsboro.
Tuttle said he heard that Woodsboro is considering increasing its fee to $1,500.
Meanwhile, game rooms are starting to pop up in the county, more specifically north of Bayside and around Woodsboro, according to Tuttle.
The current fee levied by the county for game room machines is $500 per machine.
And Tuttle said the game rooms’ clientele are coming from San Patricio and Aransas counties where the game rooms have been shut down.
“I’m not understanding why people are coming to Refugio County for novelty prizes,” said Commissioner Gary Bourland.
Judge Rene Mascorro said the game rooms are causing difficulty for county residents and law enforcement.
“We need to decide what we are trying to accomplish,” Mascorro said.
Mascorro added that the county really doesn’t know how many machines the game rooms have, and no background checks have been done on the people working at the game rooms.
“There’s a potential for crime and drugs,” Mascorro said. “If it were up to me, I’d want $2,000 per machine.”
“I’d like to know how many felons are working for them,” Mascorro said.
Mascorro added that the establishments should be inspected for compliance with the laws on gambling and for the food they serve.
“They’re slot machines, not amusement machines for toys,” Bourland said.
Mascorro said the problem is twofold: safety for residents and making sure each game room has a safe environment.
Woodsboro Police Chief Joseph Roberts said the gaming machine fees for small cities helps the their budgets.
Roberts said Woodsboro has made sure game machine permit applications have to be approved by the city council and law enforcement.
Roberts said he’s had little trouble with the game rooms: an EMS call, attempted burglaries and theft sum it up.
Bourland added that the state does not regulate the game rooms.
“The state has yet to assess any kind of punishment,” Mascorro said.
Roberts noted that the state leaves it up to district attorneys to prosecute. But in the end, the state sells the machines back to the game room operators, starting the whole process again.
“We should require them to have their own bonded security,” Mascorro said.
County Clerk Ida Ramirez said currently there is no application for the game room machine permits.
She said game room owners pay per machine and get a sticker for each, which law enforcement places on the machines. The stickers are good for one year.
Mascorro suggested levying a fee for every machine in the county, including those in municipalities where the machines have to have a city’s permit.
The suggestion was run by County Attorney Todd Steele.
Steele said he wasn’t sure, but “I believe you can.”
Steele said the court was talking about “regulating” the game rooms. And he noted that no regulations are built into the current ordinance.
“I suggest not to deal with fees until you have a full package ... to piecemeal it would be like shooting yourself in the foot,” Steele said.
“The sooner the better,” said Tuttle.
A workshop to construct a regulatory game room ordinance was set for 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 7.
Steele was given about two weeks to put the ordinance together after the workshop.