Texas court rules 8-line games inherently unconstitutional

The proliferating gambling halls in Texas have dealt a blow to the “fuzzy animal” legal loophole allowing companies to profit from casino-style gambling on “8-liner” gambling machines. A March opinion from a Texas appeals court considers slot machines to be “lotteries,” which are illegal in the state of Texas, and therefore outside the rule of the Constitution, regardless of any exceptions” Fuzzy Animal Award” given to companies such as Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster.

Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham explains that with the court’s opinion that 8-line games cannot be grouped with children’s amusement machines under the protection of the law of State, adult gaming machines are free to be classified as they really are: Gaming Devices.

“Gambling is illegal in the state of Texas,” Wortham said. “You can’t add exceptions like the ‘fuzzy animal’ rule to make it legal. The court understood. »

Police and public complaints about alleged illegal activity taking place in local “gaming halls” have been rife in recent years — Southeast Texas is experiencing something of a boom in neighborhood gambling dens directly Commensurate with similar increases in criminal activity nearby, city and county officials have documented time and time again. Although regulation has been undertaken to varying degrees by communities such as Lumberton, Vidor, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange County, Hardin County and Jefferson County, municipal and county prosecutors have long reported obstacles to cracking down on suspected illegal businesses due to state law that remained unclear as to the legality of 8 Lines.

Beaumont planning director Chris Boone, speaking to The Examiner as the town saw a growth in amusement arcade businesses, mostly in low-income neighborhoods, said the town was unable to to deny business licenses to providers of gambling halls activity in gambling halls. According to Boone, arcade businesses were regulated by the Texas Occupations Code, which granted an exception for operating gambling machines that awarded prizes of fuzzy animals or similar products worth less than $5. also known as the “fuzzy animal” exception. .

The “fuzzy animal” exception was enshrined in the Texas Professional Code in accordance with constitutional language allowing children’s games to operate. However, as communities in Texas quickly learned, rules meant to regulate things like cranes were later interpreted to allow for unfettered growth in the proliferation of adult entertainment.

In recent years, Boone and other city planners have considered litigation in Fort Worth challenging the professions code covering 8-line machines the same way it covers games used at Chuck E. Cheese, a pizzeria for children which is usually mentioned during the test. to support the legality of slot machines. For years, the Fort Worth case has been thrashed about in the Texas court system, with a litany of challenges to every ruling handed down. The case, which pits the City of Fort Worth and City Manager David Cook against two gambling halls and gambling hall owners, made it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, which then sent the case back to the Second Texas Court of Appeals, forcing judges to answer the question: Are 8-line slot machines unconstitutional or illegal?

The short answer: Yes, and maybe.

“In the 19th century, everyone understood that lotteries included chance, prize and consideration. Given the expansive definition of the common law – chance, prize and consideration – it is difficult to imagine a circumstance in which a slot machine is not a lottery,” wrote Justice Elizabeth Kerr on behalf of the opinion of the panel of three judges. Texas, the judge further explains, has clear legal language prohibiting lottery play by private companies written into the Constitution. “Because we conclude that these 8-line video slots are lotteries – a broader term than most would assume – they are unconstitutional.”

Declining to answer the question of the legality of the machines, the justices believe that the “or” requires that they attack only one of the words of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“On these facts and in this procedural posture, answering one of these questions is sufficient,” Kerr wrote. “Any thoughts we could offer on the possible illegality of the machines and the constitutionality of excluding fuzzy animals would be dicta (props).”

Yet the judges determined that whatever ordinances and rules the city imposes on arcade providers cannot be challenged with exceptions to the Professional Code or operational benefits granted to legitimate businesses under the same rule.

“Because the operators’ 8-line machines are lotteries and are therefore unconstitutional machines, Chapter 2153 of the Professional Code does not prejudge city ordinances governing arcades and 8-lines,” the opinion states. , referring to the stipulations of the code of professions that the code does not authorize or authorize “unconstitutional” machines, or those that do not comply with the Texas penal code.

Resolving one issue, however, the judges raise another.

“Left open is what is happening now with these orders,” placed on gambling halls operating what the court has now determined to be unconstitutional lotteries, Kerr noted in the notice issued March 17.

The Supreme Court of Texas is also wondering.

“Of course, a finding that the machines are unconstitutional or illegal would also raise questions about whether the city could license, regulate and tax them through city ordinances. This issue, however, was not raised in this case,” the Supreme Court justices noted. “The city does not explain how, if the state cannot regulate an allegedly illegal machine, the city itself can nevertheless validly impose and enforce a comprehensive system of regulation on that same machine.”

District Attorney Wortham has an idea of ​​what to do.

“It’s a very well-written opinion,” he said of the forensic lyrics written in support of what he’s always known – that 8-line vendors are hiding behind Chuck E. Cheese for run illegal gambling dens. “It says very clearly that if people want to play the game in the state of Texas, you have to change the Constitution. You can’t find gimmicks to make it legal.

Wortham said the judges’ advice will enable law enforcement to shut down illicit gambling halls operating outside the bounds of the law, greatly benefiting communities that have been negatively impacted by the companies for far too long.

“The real losers are the babies and the people who play this game,” Wortham said. “They lose their money in these places. They lack house notes; they don’t have food for their children… This hurts our economy. It hurts our city. It harms our state.

Wortham said he was now working to facilitate conversation with area police chiefs and the county sheriff, “to get them to start enforcing the law now that the court has ruled.”