HITCHCOCK, Texas — Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputies, with the help of Dickinson police and the FBI, raided three Hitchcock game rooms Wednesday night as part of an ongoing crackdown on illegal gambling. The raids came about a month before the city commission is scheduled to have its first workshop about new ordinances regulating game room operations.
The simultaneous raids of the Golden Rush in the 7900 block of state Highway 6, the Gold Mine in the 8400 block of state Highway 6 and Spin City in the 9700 block of state Highway 6 happened about 6 p.m.
Officers seized more than $43,000 in cash and the motherboards from 200 8-liner machines that investigators suspect were being used in illegal gambling operations, Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo, a sheriff’s office spokesman, said.
Hitchcock, which just initiated a moratorium on new game rooms and permits for 8-liners, has gained the nickname "Little Strip" for a stretch of state Highway 6 that is lined with game rooms.
City Commissioner Lee Stephenson, who has been pushing for stricter regulations on the game rooms, said he was "elated" with the action taken by the sheriff’s office.
"Personally I feel (the game rooms) have had free run in Hitchcock long enough," he said. "They ought to start counting their profits and move on."
According to city records, the total number of 8-liners permitted for the three game rooms should be 170, but more than 200 machines’ motherboards were seized.
Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Barry Cook said his investigators compared the permit in each game room and found that each place had more machines than the permit allowed.
Mayor Anthony Matranga said that during an inspection of game rooms Dec. 28, the same day city commissioners completed the moratorium, city staff found some game rooms had more machines than they were permitted for.
That included the Golden Rush, which had 10 more machines than were permitted, and the Gold Mine, which had three more machines than were permitted.
Neither business was fined or told to take the machines out.
Instead, the city charged permitting fee of $100 per machine and issued permits for the additional machines, Matranga said The mayor said because the city’s existing ordinance does not have enforcement provision, there wasn’t much more that could be done except collect the money.
No Arrests Made
Even adding the 13 additional machines the city discovered during that inspection, the game rooms raided Wednesday had 12 more machines than permitted, according to the number of machine motherboards confiscated by sheriff’s investigators.
Matranga said creating an enforcement and inspection provision is one of the reasons he backs a new ordinance.
While game room employees and customers were questioned by investigators, no arrests were made, and no charges had been filed, the sheriff’s office said. However, the investigation is far from over, Tuttoilmondo said.
The raid sent shock waves across the city’s 12 registered game room establishments. Most shut down operations Wednesday night as word spread.
A few reopened Thursday, but most, including the three raided, remained closed. Matranga said the game rooms that had the motherboards confiscated won’t be able to simply bring in new machines and resume operations. Replacing a motherboard is considered a new machine, and the moratorium prevents that, he said.
Those businesses will remain closed until a new ordinance is adopted, Matranga said.
‘Hazards To The City’
Lisa Baugh, who lives next door to the Spin City game room, said she was glad to see the raids.
"I hope they shut them all down," she said. "They are hazards to the city."
Baugh said she has witnessed gunfire and other illicit activity from her house and said the entire town feels unsafe because so many game rooms operate with very little regulation.
Where Was Hitchcock PD?
Stephenson said he was disappointed it took an outside agency to do what the city’s own police department hasn’t. The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office had help from Dickinson police in the raids but informed Hitchcock Police Department of the operation on the day of the raids and didn’t request help, Tuttoilmondo and Matranga said.
"I am sincerely thankful to the sheriff for stepping up to the plate," Stephenson said. "(Deputies) are enforcing the laws that are on the books, while our community had adopted a policy of no harm, no foul."
Stephenson, who is a Texas City police officer, said he doesn’t fault the city’s police department.
"I am disappointed that up to this point that our city administration has not supported our police department in combating any issues with the game rooms," he said.
Matranga had no comment on Stephenson’s statements.
The FBI also was involved in the operation to investigate any possible links to organized crime, Cook said.
The mayor said he hopes to schedule the first game room ordinance workshop in February.