Sebastian game rooms back in business

SEBASTIAN — When Cheto Garcia gazed across the street Thursday morning, the Silver Outpost was open.

Down the road, the Silver Star, the Silver Express and the La Victoria game rooms were also back in business.

Since a judge denied the game rooms their request to open under a temporary injunction Feb. 21, the four eight-liner arcades had been closed.

But sometime between 10 and 11 a.m. Thursday, they all opened up again, Garcia said.

“It’s funny,” Garcia said as he watered his lawn yesterday. “They all seemed to open at the same time.”

Robert Flores, the attorney who represents the game rooms’ owners, said he didn’t advise them to re-open.

“I don’t have nothing to do with it,” Flores said through his secretary during a phone call.

At the Silver Star and Silver Outpost, workers said the game rooms’ owners weren’t around to answer the question about why the game rooms opened.

“Nobody seems to know why,” Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence said yesterday afternoon.

Like Garcia, many in this tiny farming community are wondering why the game rooms are open again.

“I think they’re doing that on their own,” County Judge Aurelio Guerra said yesterday from the county’s administration building.

Mixed reactions

That’s good news for Estel Delgado, who lives off Business 77, just a few houses away from the Silver Star.

“There’s many people who say take them away,” Delgado said as she peeked out her front door. “I say don’t take them away. I like to play — not every day, just once in a while. It’s entertaining. There should be one in every town — not in the middle of town but on the outskirts.”

But Garcia lives right across the street from the Silver Outpost.

At night, his bedroom lights up as cars pull out of the game room apparently doing business out of a converted brick house next to a Family Dollar store, said Garcia, who helps lead a group pushing to drive the game rooms out of town.

“My bedroom is right there,” Garcia said as he stood in his front yard. “Anytime someone comes out, the light shines right in my room.”

Just up the street, Cecelia Galvan said the game rooms draw too many players from out-of-town.

“This is a very quiet community,” Galvan, who lives in Harlingen, said as she stopped by the family home to check on her parents.

“They like the peace and quiet,” she said. “They don’t want robberies or people who don’t live in town. They’re afraid they’re going to have burglaries.”

High stakes

For the four game rooms, the decision to open up could be costly.

If they lose their court case, they could face fines of $10,000 for every day they operated under temporary restraining orders.

Meanwhile, Spence is keeping tabs on their operating hours.

“We’re just documenting when they open and when they’re not,” he said.

How we got here

For three years, game rooms have been the buzz in this tiny farming community.

That’s when as many as 10 to 12 game rooms squeezed into the narrow streets, some opening next to homes like Garcia’s house.

For years, Spence helped push county commissioners to approve an ordinance regulating game rooms in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Then in February 2018, commissioners approved a tough, new ordinance regulating game rooms in the vast unincorporated areas.

Soon, the ordinance, which required code inspections, led the game rooms to shut down.

Under the ordinance, game rooms are required to operate at least 300 feet from homes, schools and churches — and 2,500 feet from other eight-liner arcades.

It also hits game room owners in the pocketbook, setting fines of $10,000 a day for violations.

Meanwhile, the game rooms were required to re-apply for permits to operate their businesses.

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

In response, the Silver Star Game Room, Silver Express Game Room, La Victoria Game Room and the Silver Outpost argued the county unfairly rejected their applications, denying them their due process rights.

Last August, state District Judge Migdalia Lopez granted the four game rooms their requests for temporary restraining orders, allowing them to re-open until they make their case in court.

Ever since, the cases have languished in court.

Then on Feb. 21, district Judge Alfonso Cordova denied the game rooms’ requests to remain open under temporary injunctions, setting an April 23 hearing and an Aug. 19 trial.

After the Feb. 21 hearing, Flores said he would recommend that the owners close until they get their day in court.