Motorists were slowing down to see why a half dozen vehicles from the Bee County Sheriffs Office swarmed the 777 Amusement Center at that location.
The reason for the raid, according to District Attorney José Aliseda, was to stop illegal gambling activity at the business.
Undercover investigators already had been in the business to obtain evidence for a search warrant.
In a prepared statement released Tuesday morning, Aliseda said, “Yesterday, an investigator from my office, with the assistance of the Bee County Sheriff’s Department, conducted a very successful raid on an eight-liner establishment in Skidmore, Texas.
“Along with seizing over $17,000 in cash, contraband and equipment of criminal activity, and most importantly, the building and real estate, were also seized and are now subject to forfeiture to the state.”
No arrests were made, Aliseda said. But statements were taken from the 21 patrons who were in the business when the deputies entered the building and blocked the doors.
As some deputies interviewed the owner and at least one employee, deputies allowed the patrons to leave one at a time.
As they stepped outside, Deputy Rick Villarreal questioned each one, took down their names, ages, addresses and phone numbers and asked them how many times they had been inside the business before.
Most of the patrons claimed that it was their first time at the business and that they had not been paid cash for winning at the machines and had not seen anyone else being paid in cash.
One male patron admitted that he had been to the amusement center about five times and that he had been paid about $150 after winning at the machines.
He also said he had seen others paid in cash.
Another male customer and one female confirmed that they also had seen patrons paid in cash.
That will likely be enough evidence to convince Bee County Grand Jury members to return indictments against the owners.
Running a game room or amusement center is not, in itself, against the law. But when patrons are paid in cash for winning at the machines, that becomes a violation of Texas gambling laws.
Aliseda said his intention is to bring patrons of the game rooms before grand jurors to provide evidence of that criminal (gambling) activity.
Sheriff Carlos Carrizales Jr. said following some earlier raids on eight-liner establishments that it is easy to determine which of the game rooms are paying cash to their customers. Those are the ones that attract the largest crowds.
“The real estate owners of the property where these establishments are located need to understand that their property is subject to forfeiture to the state because of the illegal activity that is occurring in their buildings,” Aliseda said. “They, too, could be charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a felony, for allowing this activity to occur on their property.”
The prosecutor said property owners where these establishments are operated need to know that collecting rent, often in cash, and turning a blind eye to the gambling that the public commonly knows about can lead to consequences.
Aliseda said additional raids and seizures of property will be coming soon. He also wants property owners in Bee, Live Oak and McMullen counties to know of the potential consequences involved in allowing illegal gambling to continue.
“Besides harboring activities that are illegal in this state, they have become public nuisances,” the prosecutor said.
“Their patrons are addicted to gambling and we have had two robberies occur at them,” Aliseda said. “They and their patrons are easy prey because of the lax security and large sums of cash that are collected every night from illegal activity.”
“The patrons of these establishments need to understand that law enforcement had been collecting their license plates numbers while they are parked at these establishments and it is my intention to begin subpoenaing these patrols to the grand juries in Bee, Live Oak and McMullen counties to testify about their activities and the occurrences at these eight-liner establishments,” Aliseda said. “Under the criminal laws of this state, they can be made to testify truthfully or be subject to contempt and perjury charges.”
The district attorney said the owners and staff of the eight-liner establishments need to understand that local law enforcement agencies and the 156th District of Texas use undercover officers and confidential informants to collect evidence of illegal gambling in those establishments.
“It is my intention to use their own patrols and customers to provide evidence against them that could subject them to felony charges,” Aliseda said.
During the questioning of patrons at the 777 Amusement Center, at least two male customers and one female customer told deputies that they had witnessed patrons being paid in cash.
Deputies conducted an inventory of the property Monday evening before boarding up the building. Some of the officers involved in the raid did not get back home until the early morning hours Tuesday.
At least 51 of the so-called eight-liner machines were found inside the building.
Those who took part in the raid included Deputy Investigators Lt. John Davis and Adam Levine and patrol Deputies Sgt. Brandon Burdick, Rick Villarreal, Jaime Catete and Ryan Treviño.
Aliseda said the raid would not have been possible without the assistance of the Bee County Sheriff’s Office and its deputies.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.