Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 21, 2013

Jacksonville Police Department targets more gambling machines

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville police said Wednesday they are offering local residents and business owners a short grace period before they start a strong push against a certain type of computer slot-machine-style gambling.

Jacksonville Police Sgt. Jason Price said officers are looking to discourage users and owners from making use of specialized “sweepstakes machines,” a form of illegal video gambling.

These machines accept special “prepared cards” similar to the kind of cards one would use to load and gamble money in either Shreveport or Las Vegas, Price said.

“You can put money on the cards and cash them out at the register of the store,” Price said. “These machines have been marketed in such a way you think it's a sweepstakes, which is legal in Texas as long as you don't have to pay for a chance to win. But if you do pay, it qualifies as gambling.”

During this grace period,  Jacksonville Police are contacting the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and various other area businesses  to get the word out about the machines.

Business owners with these types of machines are encouraged to contact the police department if they have any information about the businesses who marketed these ma-chines.

“We're talking about several tiers of offenses,” Price explained. “The players are committing an offense by gambling on them. The store owner is committing an offense by having them and the marketer and the corporate level people are committing and offense by marketing them.”

Because the “sweepstakes machines” give people the impression they are attached to some charitable venture, it may seem to be okay to play them, Price said.

“Unfortunately, the marketers of these ma-chines have done a good job of concealing the scam,” he said. “They have convinced a lot of people that it's legal to play them – but it's not.”

This new initiative was planned in the wake of a March 15 police raid of an illegal gambling den at 1207 W. Rusk. A total of 15 machines were seized in that bust – including running video machines, slot machines, and eight-liners.

The main charge imposed against the business owner during the March 15 bust was “Keeping A Gambling Place,” a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both.

Under the Texas Penal Code, a person commits this offense by using or permitting someone else to use owned property specifically for gambling purposes.

Since that incident, authorities have received numerous tips about other gambling machines in town, reports show.

Jacksonville Police Chief Reece Daniel has said he is looking to stop local businessmen who have been thumbing their noses at the law for some time.

Cooperation is essential, authorities said. Business owners caught with the machines could face charges affecting their business licenses and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission licenses.

“We understand their business is their personal business, and we are not looking into prying into how much they make –  but we need records, phone numbers and business names,” Price said.  

Anyone with information is asked to call him at 903-586-2236.