Residents speak up at public hearing on game rooms

RAYMONDVILLE — While some residents called for the regulation of 8-liner arcades popping up around Willacy County, game room operators argued they create jobs in this farming area struggling with some of the highest poverty rates in the country.

Last night, Willacy County commissioners held a public hearing to gather input from residents after a group petitioned for the regulation of 8-liner arcades in the county’s unincorporated areas.

“We felt in the commissioners court that we needed input from the community,” County Judge Aurelio Guerra said yesterday before the audience that packed the Reber Memorial Library Annex. “Obviously, this is something the commissioners have an interest in.”

Commissioners Eliberto Guerra and Henry De La Paz were absent.

Stanley Gonzales, part of the group that petitioned commissioners for regulation of 8-liner arcades, requested the county order a moratorium on game rooms while requesting the commissioners also disclose whether they have an interest in such businesses.

“It’s still illegal to gamble in Texas,” Gonzales told commissioners.

After the meeting, Guerra said commissioners will consider the comments as they determine whether to regulate the 8-liners in unincorporated areas of Willacy County.

Meanwhile, Sofia Perez presented commissioners with a petition requesting 8-liner arcades remain open.

Perez, who said she works in a game room, argued 12 employees would lose their jobs if the arcade closes.

“People depend on these establishments to support their families,” Perez said.

But, not everyone felt that way.

In Sebastian, 8-liner arcades have popped up because the county has not regulated them as have other counties and cities such as Raymondville, Antonia Rocha told commissioners.

“Is gambling legal? Then why is it illegal in other communities and not in Willacy County?” Rocha asked District Attorney Annette Hinojosa. “Our town has gone down. It seems like you’ve abandoned us. I’m sure other counties have had the same situation and they’ve done their work. Why is it Sebastian can have them and not Raymondville?”

Cheto Garcia said he lives across the street from an 8-liner arcade in Sebastian.

“These operations shouldn’t be in the neighborhoods,” said Garcia, who called on commissioners to ban game rooms. “They’re within 10 feet of a house.”

Lyford resident Sandy Uzupah argued poor residents spend their money playing 8-liner machines.

“It’s morally and Biblically wrong,” Uzupah told commissioners. “I have seen what gambling does to families and communities. I don’t want gambling rooms regulated. I want them removed.”

Samie Long argued many residents spend their money playing games of chance such as bingo and the lottery.

“We offer jobs. We offer safe entertainment,” said Long, who said she works at in game room. “It needs to be a legal business. It needs to be regulated. Bingo is the same thing. (Lottery) is the same thing. It’s better than seeing them in bars, getting in their cars drunk. That’s why we live in America — to have the freedom to choose.”

Eduardo Garcia, who said he owns the Triple 7 game room, said he pays his employees $12 an hour.

“All I’ve been trying to do is create jobs for the people,” Garcia said. “I’m not rich. Sometimes I don’t have any money. I don’t have a bank account. I just want to help the community. We invest money in Willacy County. We’re helping the community grow. I donate a lot of money to the children because I believe in the children. I’m not here to hurt anybody.”

Diamond Zavala, who said she plays 8-liner machines, called on game rooms to hire Willacy County residents.

“A lot of the employees are not from Willacy County,” Zavala said. “I think they should give jobs to locals.”