Game rooms in Victoria

An empty building that used to house a game room on Houston Highway.

Victoria County commissioners expect to have an ordinance in place by mid-December that could eliminate game rooms in the county.

Victoria County commissioners on Tuesday heard an update from County Judge Ben Zeller about plans to create the ordinance. Commissioners previously discussed the matter at a meeting in October, which arose after House Bill 892 went into effect Sept. 1. The bill repeals a section of the Local Government Code that limited game room regulation to a handful of metro Texas counties.

Tuesday, Zeller said county officials have been working diligently on the process to get an ordinance in place. The next steps, he said, are to post a notice of the ordinance in the newspaper as well as approve an impact assessment.

The notice must be in the newspaper for 30 days to allow time for the public to review it and request a copy of the proposed ordinance. Zeller said he plans to post notice about the ordinance in the newspaper by the end of the week.

Then, the county will have a public hearing on Dec. 16 for members of the public to comment in person. The ordinance will be formally adopted at that time, Zeller said.

“Once this ordinance takes effect on Dec. 16, there will be no legal game rooms at that moment in time,” he said.

Will Martin Jr., the commander of American Legion Post No. 166, the co-executive director of Conservative Texans for Charitable Bingo and chairman of the charities at Palace Bingo, asked Zeller to confirm with the county’s attorney that charitable bingo halls licensed with the Texas Lottery Commission will be exempt from the ordinance.

Zeller said the language does make it clear that the ordinance will not affect charitable bingo halls but said he will confirm with the attorney, Eric Magee, with the law firm Allison, Bass & Magee.

The conversation in October ended with commissioners planning to create an ordinance that would essentially eliminate all game rooms in the county. Zeller said Tuesday that the majority of game rooms in operation will not be eligible to stay open after the ordinance goes into effect because they are within city limits. Once the ordinance goes into effect, it would prohibit game rooms from operating in the city limits and strictly regulate game rooms outside city limits.

Zeller also said the county ordinance has requirements “more stringent” than what the attorney with the American Legion recommended, such as regulations for the hours of operation; the distance game rooms must be from churches, schools and residences; and a limit of two game rooms allowed in each of the commissioners’ precinct.

“We took some efforts to make this version more stringent than what we previously looked at,” he said.

People who seek to operate a game room in the county under these new guidelines would apply with the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office for a permit to operate outside the city limits. Martin, however, said he thinks the ordinance will turn people away from the area completely.

“I can say I feel like if I wanted to have a game room somewhere, it wouldn’t be in Victoria County,” he said.

In recent weeks, city of Victoria officials have vowed to work with the county on crafting an ordinance to best consider the community at large.

At the Victoria City Council meeting Nov. 5, City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz recommended council members support the county’s adoption of an ordinance, continue collaboration on an effective county ordinance, adopt a moratorium on new game room permits and repeal existing city game room regulations once the county does enact an ordinance.

Gwosdz said he planned to bring back a moratorium to council members at the next meeting.

County Commissioner Danny Garcia asked Zeller whether any game rooms would be “grandfathered in” and allowed to continue to operate once the ordinance takes effect; Zeller said they would not.

Zeller said the ordinance would go into effect immediately when approved by commissioners Dec. 16.

And with the ordinance in place, he said, the goal to have no games room in Victoria County could be achieved.

“I think the actual impact of this will be that those wanting to get into the game room business will take their business elsewhere,” he said. “And I think that would be mission accomplished from our point of view and from the nonprofits’ point of view.”

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter.

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(1) comment

Brian Vandale

Why have the people comment at the Dec. 16th meeting? Zeller already said in this article, the ordinance will formally be adopted and (in other words) take affect on that date.

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