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Council amends gaming ordinance

Cove Leader-Press 

Dozens of concerned citizens attended the Copperas Cove City Council meeting Tuesday evening to make their opposition known regarding an amendment to the city’s game room ordinance, under Chapter 12, Occupational Licenses, Taxes and Regulations, and Chapter 20, Zoning, of the City of Copperas Cove Code of Ordinances. 
The concern from citizens came over the line in the ordinance, in Section 12-81 under Applicability,  that mentions public exhibitions, traveling shows and carnivals, “including without limitation, medicine shows, panoramic or view shows, menageries, carnivals, circuses, wild west shows, or rodeo shows, acrobatic performances, wax shows, dramatic or live theatrical productions (except those held in a permanent theater or playhouse used in accordance with the city’s zoning code for such purposes) held in or exhibited upon the streets or under any tent, or hall or building, or on any other public or private property within the city.”
Sgt. Steven O’Neal, with the Copperas Cove Police Department, clarified that the ordinance was not aimed at privately owned businesses in town. The part that citizens expressed concern over actually has been part of the city’s ordinance since the 1970s, he said. 
“It’s more geared for a traveling type show venue that comes into the city of Copperas Cove to do expositions,” O’Neal said. “This is not geared towards, you know, a business like Domino’s Pizza holding a Soldiers Appreciation Day, that we’re requiring permits and things of that nature. That’s absolutely not the case and not true in any shape or fashion.”
The amendments for the ordinance came about after the CCPD began looking into the various “sweepstakes” parlors in town in 2016 and, in April 2017, O’Neal delivered a presentation to the Copperas Cove City Council about the gaming establishments in the city. The council direction was for CCPD to work on amending the ordinance regarding gaming facilities. 
“Sweepstakes” parlors in Copperas Cove
These amendments have been made with emphasis on Chapter 12, Article V (Amusements; Entertainment) Sections 12-80 to 12-96 regulating exhibitions, game rooms and pool rooms; and Chapter 20 (Zoning) Article I, Section 20-7 and Article III, Section 20-16 to “establish and clarify definitions, permissible use districts for amusement-based uses, and special conditions for game rooms, pool rooms and other uses; and amending appendix C (Schedule of Fees) to establish associated fees and occupational use taxes; providing a penalty clause providing that violations of this ordinance are Class C misdemeanors subject to fines not to exceed $2,000.00; providing repealer, cumulative and severability clauses; and establishing an effective date,” according to the agenda packet. 
 The definitions explain what constitutes “amusement redemption machines”, what arcade games are and what a “game room” is under the ordinance. 
For the public hearing regarding the amendments to the ordinance, Alicia Menard, the new president and CEO of the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of local businesses and Chamber members. She ended up being the only one in the audience to speak up. 
Menard said that everybody is aware that the ordinance is aimed at the illegal gambling industry and that the other portion of the ordinance targets traveling shows in an effort to regulate events such as carnivals, rodeos, petting zoos, circuses and acrobatic performances. 
“Modifying the ordinance with a written policy that is subject to events taking place on private property that has been proven to impede on city owned property and roadways or a private business event that has had numerous documented complaints or written citations is a recommendation to maybe add as a provision to this ordinance,” Menard said. 
Menard suggested that the verbiage of the ordinance was a “little too broad” and could “open Pandora’s box.”
“Under 12-81, under Applicability, how it currently reads, it does give the city to authoritative right to require or start to enforce private businesses to apply for set event permits,” Menard said. “I understand that is not the intent of the current leaders but based on the language, it all boils down to interpretation, intent and focus of the authoritative leadership that is in place enforcing this ordinance as we move forward.”
Menard recommended that council members establish a provision under Section 12-81 to protect private businesses from needing to get permits for activities taking place at or within their establishments. 
“It is my opinion that both the businesses and those enforcing the ordinance would feel more secure regulating this ordinance both now and in the future as current leaders and future leaders come forth,” Menard added. 
Menard also asked about the permit/fee schedule and deposit/bond requirements and whether multiple fees would be required per show, performance or exhibition that takes place under the umbrella of one set event. 
The ordinance reads that any person “desiring to conduct, exhibit, or maintain any Show within the City shall first secure an amusement permit” and that as a condition of the issuance of the amusement permit, the city may require the placement of an amusement deposit. The ordinance sets the cost for an amusement permit at $150 and an amusement deposit at $300. 
Council member Fred Chavez said that he thought it would be worth taking a little extra time to look at tightening up the language. 
“If there was room for ambiguity that could lead us into trouble we don’t need or want, it’s preferable that the language is concise and does not lead anyone to think that, ‘Oh, it’s good to charge multiple fees for whatever reason,’” Chavez said. 
O’Neal said that he would not be opposed to removing the language referring to traveling shows and making the ordinance focused solely on game room amusements. 
Council member Joann Courtland said she thought that the language needs to be clear about what it pertains to and what it doesn’t. 
“I don’t think with the comments that I’ve heard tonight that it’s very clear in what it is not,” Courtland added. 
City Attorney Scott Osborn clarified that Section 12-81 defines what a show is and what is subject to regulation. 
“To address the issue of whether or not this applies to these types of activities being held within an existing business, what council could consider is adding additional verbiage in the exception,” Osborn said. “The exception says those held in a permanent theater or playhouse. You could simply add ‘those held in a permanent theater, playhouse, or a private business’ to address that particular issue.”
Regarding fees, Osborn gave an example of a carnival, with different exhibitions and said that there would only be one permit fee even with multiple exhibits. 
After the public hearing ended, Councilman Charlie Youngs moved to approve the ordinance but to withdraw Section 12-81 in its entirety, including all references to shows and entertainment while keeping the gaming part of the ordinance. 
This would allow city council to address the gaming concerns and also allow council to come back to work with the concerned citizens about the terminology of the shows, the events and the costs, he said. 
Council member Jay Manning said he agreed that it is important to move forward with the gaming ordinance and then go back and revise the ordinance as it pertains to the entertainment and live shows. 
Chavez also agreed and said he didn’t see the traveling shows as something that is “burning up” and needing to be dealt with immediately. 
“We should take the time, reread it, tighten up the language and maybe reference things that might actually be coming to town,” Chavez said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a medicine show, just to be honest with you. I think we need to make our laws a little bit more applicable to the world that we live in today.”
Council members discussed the other parts of the ordinance in connection to gaming establishments. 
Courtland asked whether Underground Games, located in the Cove Terrace Shopping Center, or any business with a Pac Man or coin-operated pool machine would be affected by the ordinance. 
O’Neal said that those are separate from what the ordinance is targeting and are already required to be registered with the state and to pay an occupational tax for the games. 
Following the meeting, Menard said she was looking forward to the opportunity to sit down with the city council and work on making the ordinance friendly to businesses. 
Even though the language of the ordinance has been the same for years, that’s not an excuse to not bring it current, Menard said. 

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