There may not be a SWAT team waiting to swoop in and seize equipment, but make no mistake: The city intends to enforce its new game room ordinance.
Starting Wednesday, the first day the ordinance officially hit the books, city officials began sending out notices to game rooms they believe are violating the rules.
But city officials also said that while no one is going “gung ho” — no raids, no seizures — to enforce the new ordinance, it is a new law on the books that they plan to enforce.
“We are going about the business at hand,” said Diane Covey, a spokeswoman for the city’s Code Compliance Division.
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Only two days old, the new game room ordinance has already been challenged twice in court. So far, the ordinance has survived largely intact.
At a court hearing Wednesday night, state District Judge Melody Wilkinson signed a temporary restraining order blocking the city from enforcing the licensing portion of the regulation for 10 specific machines located across the city.
And a request for another second temporary restraining order was withdrawn in state District Judge David Evan’s court Thursday when city attorneys and the attorney representing game room owners on Camp Bowie Boulevard West agreed to return to court in two weeks for an evidentiary hearing.
The game room zoning and licensing ordinances were unanimously approved by the Fort Worth City Council in the fall after council members expressed concerns about crimes that sometimes happen in and near game rooms and about the difficulty of investigating illegal gaming.
Before the regulation was passed, game rooms were largely unregulated by the city.
In the new ordinance, game rooms are only allowed to operate in industrial-zoned areas of the city and would be considered legal only if they offered noncash prizes with a value of $5 or less.
The city also said that game rooms would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a residential area, a church, school or hospital. They also had to be marked with the words game room with at least one unobstructed window allowing a view of all the machines.
The ordinances also require game room operators to keep detailed records about the machines and to file a site plan of the facility that must be reviewed by an engineer or architect. It also requires the game room owner to seek permission from the city Planning and Zoning Commission.
But attorneys representing the game room owners and machine distributors said the ordinance is too restrictive and unfairly punishes convenience stores, bars and bingo halls that may have only a few machines as part of their broader business.
‘Over the line’
In particular, the lawsuit filed by Mark Haney and Steve Fenoglio in Wilkinson’s court states that over the years the Texas Legislature has passed laws to bring uniformity to game room operations and that the local regulations improperly pre-empt those laws.
“The state laws are very specific about what they [the city] can do, and we think they are way over the line,” Fenoglio said. The attorneys return to court next month to continue their challenge.
While the court fights continue, the city will continue taking steps to enforce the ordinance.
Elmer DePaula, superintendent of Consumer Health in the city’s Code Compliance Division, said they have gone through a very deliberative process to explain the regulation.
In November, letters were sent to 2,600 potential game room operators to give them a “heads up” on what the ordinance included, he said. Depaula said those were followed up with phone calls. There also were public meetings with game room operators and residents about the new rules.
DePaula said they’ve also had individual meetings with interested parties about the ordinance.
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714