The Denton Police Department has begun a crackdown on gambling machines in the city where operators are paying out more than what is legal. Fifty such machines have already been seized.
An “eight-liner” is a video slot machine that resembles an old arcade game. Robert Frey, a prosecutor with the Denton County District Attorney’s Office, said there are a lot of exemptions regarding these devices and that the dividing line between what people think of as casino games versus a game at a Chuck E. Cheese is what’s being paid out.
“The gist of it is that eight-liners, they are gambling machines, but for the most part it is illegal in Texas [to gamble],” said Lt. Preston Pohler of the Denton Police Department. “Legislation allowed these machines with very strict guidelines where basically … say someone gambles $1. The max payout is either $5 or 10 times the value of whatever you put in the machine — whichever is less.”
Frey said with eight-liner games, you’re playing more for amusement purposes than to win a $100 prize.
“If you put in 25 cents and win $100, that’s a different type of enterprise,” Frey said.
After receiving complaints about some businesses giving higher payouts, Pohler said police started looking into businesses where other offenses such drug possession and robberies have occurred.
“We received some complaints related to the gambling that some of these businesses were paying out a significant amount of money, like thousands [in] payouts,” Pohler said. “The gambling complaint coupled with the increase in crime in these areas, that started to snowball, and we thought, ‘OK, we need to do something about it.’”
He said it’s been a lengthy ordeal that is still ongoing because police have to verify businesses were actually paying out more than they should be.
“Historically with the DA’s office, we had a few cases several years ago that they had trouble getting a successful prosecution,” Pohler said. “The jury didn’t care, so they found them not guilty. We worked with the DA [this time] to make sure to get the best case possible. It took a lot of research and a lot of time.”
Frey said every case is different and that there are a lot of different charges related to gambling under Texas Penal Code Chapter 47. He said Section 6 is a catch-all for these cases because it’s the possession of gambling device charge.
For that prosecution to be successful, he said authorities “need to show it’s evident and with intent to further gambling — knowingly owning, transferring or possessing a gambling device they know is designed for gambling purposes.”
“It’s not where someone doesn’t know they have one or they’re confused,” Frey said. “We’re looking for the evidence that someone knows they were trying to run a mini casino. … The biggest difference in my mind is if a machine at Chuck E. Cheese malfunctions and gives out $6, that’s not what we’re dealing with. We’ve got to have that clear evidence from the police department doing their investigation that they’re paying out significant payouts.”
Frey said it’s been a while since a gambling case was referred to the Denton County District Attorney’s Office.
“There are some options under the Penal Code for Class C offenses,” he said. “If that was brought up by the Denton County Sheriff’s Office or a local police department, it would go to the municipal courts. There’s a route the city can go to file Class C and use it for seizure and disposal of machines, but it has been a while since we had a true prosecution for something where jail time could potentially be involved.”
In the past couple of weeks, Pohler said police have seized the motherboards of some businesses’ eight-liners through search warrants. Rather than taking the entire machine, he said many law enforcement agencies seize just the motherboards because it’s what makes the machines operate.
“It’s still an active investigation,” he said. “Our main priority was to obviously stop the gambling. We did make a couple of arrests in running search warrants, but they weren’t related to the actual search warrant. Someone had drugs on them, and another had outstanding warrants. Our focus was the machines and any evidence related to the machines.”
In the city, Pohler said there are several convenience-type stores that operate eight-liners. Some have only one or two, but he said police focused on a couple that had at least 40.
The Denton Police Department cracked down on this issue about 20 years ago as well, Pohler said. It has been in the past five years that gambling has become more of an issue because of the secondary crime that can come along with it.
Some of the businesses where police seized eight-liner motherboards are Smokey’s Smoke Shop, located at 1214 Fort Worth Drive, Suite 104; and Big D Food Store, located at 420 S. Carroll Blvd., No. 101. Asked if these locations would be further monitored in case they install new motherboards, Pohler said there could be other enforcement taken down the line if need be.
“There’s still locations out there we haven’t done any enforcement action on,” he said. “That’s not to say they’re all breaking the law. Some are probably doing what they need to do.”