Federal agents raid Lyford game room

LYFORD — For the second time in nearly four months, federal agents have raided one of the city’s largest game rooms.

Agents with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations seized about 400 eight-liner machines and their mother board late Thursday afternoon.

The raid hit the El Toro game room, one of the largest of the city’s four eight-liner arcades, Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence said Friday.

Spence said agents, working with his department and other agencies, also raided a nearby business which exchanges game room winners’ silver tokens for cash, along with Brittany’s Boutique in Raymondville, which also exchanges tokens for cash.

An undercover operation led agents to raid the game room, Spence said.

“It was raided because of gambling — paying off illegally,” he said.

Spence said agents detained six game room workers, who were taken to a Harlingen office.

“They were taken in for follow-up investigations and interviews,” he said.

The federal raid marked the second since October on the big eight-liner arcade.

Stanley Gonzales, who has pushed to drive game rooms from the county dubbed by some as “Little Las Vegas,” said he welcomes the federal push to shut down the game room.

“I’m pleased law enforcement is continuing to take action,” Gonzales, a retired college instructor who lives just outside Lyford, said.

In San Antonio, Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security Investigations, said Friday afternoon she could not speak to the media as a result of the federal government shutdown.

Why El Toro?

Questions surround the second federal raid on the game room.

Agents have not disclosed the reason they have targeted the game room in this rural county that is currently home to about eight game rooms from Sebastian to Lasara, Spence said.

Police Chief Andres Maldonado said agents also have not disclosed whether arrests were made as a result of the raid.

Since the October raid, some of El Toro’s popularity has worn off, Spence said.

For years, El Toro had stood as one of the county’s largest game operations.

In the past few years, local law enforcement agencies had raided El Toro twice, Spence has said.

“It has been in the past because of the number of machines but activity has dropped since the last one,” Spence said, referring to October’s raid.

Big business

However, players continue to drive into town to try their luck at the city’s three other game rooms, Maldonado said.

“They’re packed, mostly during weekends,” he said.

Maldonado said he is keeping an eye on the city’s other game rooms — The Wagon Wheel, the Sizzling 7s and the Great Eagle.

About 80 percent of players drive in from out of town, he said.

“We monitor the traffic that goes in and out of there,” he said.

Sebastian game rooms

For years, authorities have worked to crack down on the county’s game rooms.

Early last year, county commissioners approved a tough new ordinance that led eight game rooms to shut down in Sebastian.

However, four of those game rooms reopened after a judge granted their requests for temporary restraining orders last August.

Like Gonzales, many Sebastian residents continue to wait for a court date.

“It’s kind of dragging its feet,” Gonzales said.

Friday, the district clerk’s office could not be reached to determine whether a court date has been set because of telephone problems at the county administration building.