HOUSTON — Video gaming machines, often called “eight-liners” because there are eight ways to win based on the combination of images on the screen, are on the rise in Houston and can be found in coin laundries, convenience stores and even dental offices, the Houston Police Department reports.
Video gambling is illegal in Texas, but the gaming machines are not — unless they pay out a prize over a certain amount. Gaming rooms, featuring a multitude of machines and even food, have shot up in the Houston area in the past few years. They continue to operate because owners disguise them as “amusement rooms” and take advantage of weaknesses in the gambling laws.
In 1993, Texas lawmakers changed gambling laws to allow for “amusement” machines that award noncash prizes such as stuffed animals. However, this lead to more illegal gambling, law enforcement officials say. A game violates the law if a single win is worth $5 or 10 times the value of the play, whichever is less. Proving this is another matter. Police must go undercover and get a payout. These investigations are often time-consuming and expensive.
Since 2003, there have been 219 gambling-related arrests and 2,771 video gaming machines have been seized in Houston.
Local officials say they are doing all they can to combat illegal gambling, but are asking for help from the state. Some believe the owners of these machines won’t stop unless the crime is changed from a misdemeanor to a felony. Others believe gambling needs to be completely stopped or simply legalized.