Eight local game rooms ordered to cease operations
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Last, week eight sweepstakes gaming rooms in Copperas Cove were paid a visit by the Copperas Cove Police Department and each of those establishments were issued a “cease and desist” letter to halt operations in the city within 15 days.
The action came about as a result of Sgt. Steve O’Neal with the Copperas Cove Police Department looking into the sweepstakes/gaming room operations. Notices were delivered to Gold Rush, Shamrock, Parlor At Five Hills, Cove Internet Café, KT Amusements, Longhorn Café, Surf and Sip, and Hometown Sweepstakes.
“We are looking to expedite the issue with the game rooms,” O’Neal said about last week’s action. “In lieu of taking folks to jail, we worked with Brandon Belt, the county attorney, and came to the conclusion that we would give them fair warning to shut down operations or we would look at prosecuting them.”
O’Neal said the investigation of these businesses wasn’t a covert operation.
“We didn’t go in and undercover gamble, nothing like that,” O’Neal said. “We went in and asked, ‘How do you guys work?’ Because, that’s what I needed to know. So they told me how they worked, and I told them it was illegal.”
O’Neal also said that the establishments are also evading the tax code as well.
“They didn’t come out and say, ‘Oh, we’re evading the tax code.’ I asked them where their profit is going, and their process is not legitimate, from what they told me.”
As far as bingo halls go, O’Neal called bingo halls “a whole different animal in and of itself” and that the problem with sweepstakes/gaming rooms, is trying to represent themselves as sweepstakes, when that’s not how legal sweepstakes are run.
“In order to be a sweepstakes, you have to sell a product. Like McDonald’s or Coca-Cola, they have their Monopoly game and Coke has you look under the cap to win. But not one of these places sells a product. They’re trying to say that they’re ‘selling’ a donation, which is illegal. You can’t sell a donation.”
Part of the issue also deals with the gaming companies who create the software for the games that are the ones trying to find loopholes, O’Neal said.
“Payout Vending is a company that sponsors some of the software. Their angle is, ‘We’re selling a product.’ Some of these places literally have older style gaming machines that you find in Vegas.”
O’Neal said the department noticed the “rapid opening” of sweepstakes businesses in town. According to city permit records, five such businesses received certificates of occupancy in 2017.
“I looked at other cities that have had this problem, and every one of them, Waco, Austin, were all run almost identically to how these are run, and they shut them down because of illegal gambling.”
Back on April 6, O’Neal made a presentation to the Copperas Cove city council about gaming establishments within the city and the council directed the CCPD to work on proposed changes to the city ordinance where gaming facilities are concerned. The impact the establishments have on crime is an increase in aggravated robberies, thefts, burglaries, property damage, narcotics as well as other things not reported, O’Neal said at that meeting. For example, in March 2017, the Gold Rush internet cafe on S. 2nd St, had two incidents with burglary and theft, with over $7,000 stolen.
The department has worked on a rough draft of proposed ordinances, O’Neal added, which are with Police Chief Wilson. After that, they will go to the city attorney, and eventually to the city council.