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Eight Liners Operate On The Edge Of State Law. A New Bill Wo

edit:casino time:2019-02-09

From Texas Standard:

In Texas, gambling is illegal in almost all forms. But you’d never know it driving down Business 77 in Willacy County. It cuts through a rural area of the Rio Grande Valley, but bares a passing resemblance to Las Vegas. It’s a headache for law enforcement, but a remedy could be on the way.

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It’s a Friday night in the tiny south Texas community of Sebastian, and the gravel parking lot in front of the Silver Star game room is packed. A blinking neon arrow points to a converted trailer on Business 77. Inside, it’s a single rectangular room with a low ceiling imbued with the smell of cigarettes. There’s a sign on each wall that says “NO CASH PAYOUTS.”

The only light comes from a small heating lamp at the snack bar, and from the dozens of screens that sit along its walls. They look like old arcade games, but they’re actually electronic gambling machines called eight liners: video slot machines like what you’d find at a full-blown casino.

I get 10 $1 bills from an employee sitting in a clear plastic booth on the far wall, and sit down at one of the machines. I burn through the cash in about three minutes, then watch the other customers – most of whom are elderly -- feed bill after bill into the machines.

It’s the same scene up and down Business 77, not just at the Silver Star, but also at the El Toro, the Great Eagle, and the one Elida Cardenas lives near, the Sizzling 7s.

“To me they’re not pleasant,” Cardenas says. “In some occasions there was fights at those eight liners. And some people, they’re out there ‘till midnight, one in the morning. They’re so close to family homes.”

But, according to Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz, the problem isn’t just that they bring noise and crime into quiet neighborhoods.

“You have to pay cash to these folks to encourage them to come back, that allows you to stay in business,” Saenz says.

But in Texas, paying cash is illegal. You can offer eight liners for entertainment purposes, but you can’t award any prize worth more than $5. So operators look for creative ways to get around the law.

“The operator would say ‘well, I’m not giving cash, I’m giving $20 worth of groceries. I’m giving a debit card that you can compensate at a local store,’” Saenz says.

Saenz would know. He’s spent most of his time as Cameron County’s DA fighting eight liners. You find them all over the state, but they’re particularly pervasive in South Texas. When Saenz took office, they were all over the county, illicitly clearing tens of thousands of dollars a night. Now, there are hardly any – but closing them took a lot of time and resources. Keeping them tamped down still does.

“I don’t want to spend time on eight liners. I’ve got murders. I’ve got child abusers. I’ve got drugs coming in,” Saenz says.

It’s a problem that caught the attention of State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a Democrat from Laredo.

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