Houston game rooms under fire

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HOUSTON – County commissioners are on a mission.

New regulations effecting game rooms are set to take place next year, effectively putting a strain on the way operators do business. And County Judge Ed Emmett isn’t mincing words about why commissioners voted unanimously to put the clamp down on the folks who run them.

“Violence has been associated with them,” Emmett says, “all kinds of nefarious activities, and they’ve had trouble in unincorporated Harris County getting a handle on it, so these regulations give law enforcement a way of dealing with them.”

Starting in March, any business in Harris County housing six or more video poker machines, or “eight-liners,” will be required to pay $1,000 annually in order to operate, close their doors at 10pm and place a sign in front of the business saying “game room” in large lettering. On top of that, new businesses won’t be allowed to open within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or neighborhoods.

And Judge Emmett is hopeful his new regulations will be adopted by the city, as well.

“We really do have to act in a compatible manner so that we shut these places down,” he says.

Opponents to the new rules argue that violent crime happens more often at banks and convenience stores than game rooms and that the new regulations will likely drive gambling into private homes where authorities have less access to intervene.

Still the rules of the game are changing. And commissioners have made it clear they aren’t afraid to double-down.

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