SEBASTIAN — The eight game rooms that squeezed their way into this rural community might be operating on borrowed time.
Under a tough, new ordinance, Willacy County commissioners plan to slash the county’s number of eight-liner arcades to three.
After years of complaints, commissioners last week approved the ordinance to regulate game rooms in the county’s unincorporated areas.
“It’s almost a complete turnaround,” Sheriff Larry Spence said yesterday, referring to commissioners’ decision to adopt an ordinance apparently tough enough to possibly rid this tiny community of game rooms, whose numbers have swelled in the last two years.
Last Thursday, commissioners met in closed session to apparently toughen up the ordinance
After the meeting, they released its final draft.
“It will help immensely,” Spence said. “We have been asking and begging for something with some teeth in it. It’s got teeth to help us keep an eye on it.”
Commissioners worked with District Attorney Annette Hinojosa to draft the ordinance that became effective with its approval last Thursday.
What it does
The county “has experienced a proliferation of game room operations that have had a negative impact on the quality of life of its residents,” the ordinance states.
According to the ordinance, it is in “the best interest of Willacy County and its residents that game rooms be limited in number and regulated to minimize potential negative impact on the residents.”
The ordinance gives law enforcement authority to inspect game rooms for violations.
Violations to cause shutdowns
Under the ordinance, game rooms cited for violations will be required to shut down.
“If there are violations and it’s shut down they won’t be able to reopen,” Spence said.
The ordinance includes a grandfather clause which allows Sebastian’s eight game rooms to continue operations.
But it also requires them to apply for permits to operate eight-liner machines.
Spence said even building code violations might be enough to force some to shut down.
Who is grandfathered?
Meanwhile, the grandfather clause also allows three current applicants to continue working toward receiving permits to open game rooms in Sebastian.
“It’s going to be a lot of leg work to get the applicants checked out,” Spence said.
Under the ordinance, game rooms face $10,000 fines for each violation.
What are the rules?
The ordinance requires game rooms to limit operations between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Sunday mornings.
In Sebastian, residents such as Cheto Garcia have complained game rooms operate as late as 3 a.m., blasting glaring light into homes.
The ordinance also requires new game rooms to be located at least 300 feet from schools, churches and homes.
In Sebastian, residents have complained about game rooms about 100 feet from homes and a Head Start.
Meanwhile, the ordinance requires new eight-liner arcades to be located at least 5,000 feet from other game rooms, on frontage property with direct access to highways.
Limits the number of game rooms to three
Grandfathered game rooms required to apply for permits
Requires at least 300-foot distances between new game rooms and schools, churches and homes
Requires new game rooms be located at least 5,000 feet from other game rooms, on frontage property with direct access to highways
Limits operations between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Sunday
Sets fines of $10,000 per day for each violation