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to do anything about these game rooms right now.” It’s no coincidence that both meth labs and game rooms are prospering simultaneously. Suppliers in both fields have succeeded by attracting customers in search of the same basic thinga cheap blast of stimulation. The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently ran a story about the new wave of video slot machines. Howard Shaffer, the director of Harvard Medical School’s division on addictions, noted that video slot machines affect the brain in the same way as “psychostimulants, like cocaine or amphetamines?’ In Montague County, social service providers are beginning to recognize the fallout of the game rooms. Edwin Brooks, president of the Ministerial Alliance, a charity made up of local churches, says that he frequently receives phone calls from people asking for help paying their utility bills or buying groceries. Later, Brooks sees the same people with their cars parked outside the game rooms. “The eight-liners are a trap to catch our local people,” says Brooks. “They don’t have money to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but they can do it right here. They think that if they win, their problems will go away. But instead, their problems are just getting worse.” Brooks is quick to point out that the county was facing hard times long before the advent of the game rooms, but he also notes that for certain people, the constant temptation of living near the machines has been overwhelming. “You can see people sitting in there all day long,” says Brooks. “It creates a problem of addiction.” The question of what to do about illegal game rooms is not a new one for the Lone Star State. Video slot machines first snuck into Texas sometime in the 1990s, spreading across the state one truck stop at a time. The games eventually carved out a new niche within the ever-evolving landscape of American gambling: strip-mall game rooms that were downscale and unassuming. Although the Texas Penal Code prohibits electronic gambling devices, there is an exception for machines with prizes limited to $5 or 10 times the cost of playing the game once, whichever is less. The rule was set up to accommodate arcade games, but game-room operators soon adopted the “fuzzy animal” exemption as their own. Many of the mini-casinos began awarding winnings in the form of tickets that could be turned in for cash and prizes. Eventually, law enforcement officials started calling the game rooms’ bluff. Between 1998 and 2003, the Attorney General’s Special Crimes Division helped seize approximately 2,000 eight-liner machines and $500,000 in illegal proceeds. The Texas Supreme Court heard two cases last year in which game-room operators essentially doubled down on their “fuzzy animal” card and challenged the state’s right to confiscate their equipment. Both times, they lost. Tom Kelly, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, says that the rulings have made it easier for local law enforcement agencies to shut down game rooms. As a result, the Special “They think that if they win, their problems will go away. But instead, their problems are just getting worse:’ Crimes Division no longer assists in the busts. “There should be no more quarrelling about whether this is illegal or not,” says Kelly. “It’s up to the sheriff, the district attorney, and the county attorney to enforce the law.” Last year, Wade Shelton, a semi-retired sewing machine mechanic, approached members of the Nocona City Council to protest the game rooms, which were still booming despite the high court’s rulings. “I’ve seen people put $300 or $400 in those machines going after a $50 pot,” says Shelton. “They max out their credit cards. They can’t pay their bills. These people need protection. They can’t do it themselves:’ In response, Nocona officials passed an ordinance last November declaring eight-liners “a public nuisance” and requiring game-room owners to register and ante up $15 for each machine. One city official, who asked not to be named, says that lackadaisical enforcement has rendered the ordinance ineffective. So far, not a single owner has registered. In Bowie, a town of roughly 5,200 people on the southern end of the county, city officials succeeded last year in shutting down a number of game rooms. But the video slots didn’t altogether vanish. Owners reopened the mini-casinos outside the city limits, where the jurisdiction shifts from the Bowie police force to the county sheriff “We’ve done all we can,” says James Cantwell, the city manager. “The county officials have chosen not to strictly enforce the law.” County Attorney Jeb McNew says that he is aware of the problem. In December, he and the district attorney sent a memo to the sheriff’s department reiterating the illegality of eight-liners and encouraging officers to investigate any potential violations in the county. “I have yet to get one offense report on them,” says McNew. “But if it’s going on, shoot, let us know about it.” Sheriff Chris Hamilton says that his officers haven’t forwarded any cases to the county attorney because they’ve been too busy fighting the meth labs. “When I get through working my dopers and my burglars and things that seem a little bit more high priority, I’ll invest the money and time it’s going to take to prosecute these guys that are running the eight-liner machines,” says Hamilton. “Quite frankly, I don’t have the time to do it right now.” Ostensibly, the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings made it simple for county officials to chase off game rooms. In theory, once a sheriff threatens to confiscate the machines, game room operators will usually shut down their businesses rather than jeopardize tens of thousands of dollars in equipment. Sheriff Hamilton isn’t so sure. “It’s not like you can just continued on page 19 7/16/04THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11