Waco and McLennan County governments will likely create an interlocal agreement to combat illegal gambling using new regulatory powers the Texas Legislature has granted counties.
House Bill 892 gives counties the power to license and regulate game rooms, defined as any establishment with six or more video slot machines, also known as eight-liners. The Waco and McLennan County Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Monday discussed how an interlocal agreement could allow the city to inspect game rooms and enforce county regulations within Waco’s jurisdiction.
The new law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, gives to every Texas county the regulatory authority that only certain large counties previously had over game rooms. The law defines game rooms and allows counties to restrict where game rooms can operate and how many can operate in an area.
Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said he studied regulations already in force in counties such Harris County, where county government has interlocal agreements allowing cities to enforce the regulations.
“The county still retains authority for injunctions; the county has ultimate authority on permit appeals,” Holt said. “What it allows the cities to do is to create a department or licensing or office of licensing for permits.
Holt said the city of Waco staff supports the Harris County model here.
“We’re looking forward to that kind of relationship,” he said.
City and county governments will need to hammer out details of their model before the county passes a game room ordinance. After the meeting, Holt he expects to see formal interlocal agreement with city governments within the next few weeks.
“Because of the way previous regulations were written, only the largest counties under the local government code had the authority to take enforcement action,” Holt said. “It sounds to me like Commissioners Court and the city wants it sooner rather than later, so we’re going to make that happen.”
District 4 Councilman Dillon Meek spoke at length about the need to start enforcing those laws sooner rather than later.
“Often, these institutions are functioning as illegal gambling operations,” Meek said. “With that, two things are happening.”
Meek said illegal gambling is inherently disruptive to local economies, and he fears that crime will only beget more crime.
“For me, it’s really important that our neighborhoods are safe and the law is being followed,” Meek said. “This is one way that it would be easy to ensure illegal gambling is not occurring in our communities.”