Top Stories of 2018: Willacy game rooms

SEBASTIAN — What some residents call “Little Las Vegas” is still on the map.

For months, the fate of Willacy County’s game rooms have languished in the courts, where residents continue to await a ruling.

That’s why it is among 2018’s biggest stories in the area.

About three years ago, as many as 10 game rooms squeezed into the narrow streets of this farming community, many opening near homes.

After many residents pushed for laws controlling game rooms here, Willacy County commissioners in February approved a tough, new ordinance regulating eight-liner arcades in the vast unincorporated areas.

The ordinance required the county’s game rooms to re-apply for permits to operate.

After the sheriff’s department reviewed their applications, the county granted permits to three game rooms.

So, many game room owners argued the county unfairly rejected their applications, denying them their due process rights.

By August, state District Judge Migdalia Lopez had granted the Silver Star Game Room, Silver Express Game Room, La Victoria Game Room and the Silver Outpost their requests for temporary retraining orders.

Less than a month later, Ricardo Morado, the attorney representing Willacy County, requested the cases be moved from state court to federal court because their due process arguments constitute federal claims.

The cases were set for a Dec. 27 hearing.

But early last month, the county agreed to move the cases back to state District Court, where a hearing has not been set.

Law enforcement’s raids have done little to grind down the game rooms’ operations.

In November, authorities raided the Silver Outpost after an undercover operation found it illegally dealing out cash prizes, according to authorities.

As a result, the game room shut down, leading the three other eight-liner arcades to temporarily close their doors.

Soon, the Silver Outpost had reopened as a result of its temporary restraining order.