Fort Worth is facing its first roadblock — in the form of a lawsuit — in enforcing a new ordinance restricting gaming rooms.
Apolonio and Olga Garcia, owners of 580 Arcade in the 9900 block of Camp Bowie West Boulevard, say the ordinance makes “absurd and irrational requirements,” according to the lawsuit filed Friday.
The couple is requesting that the Tarrant County District Court immediately stop the city from enforcing the ordinance — which is supposed to go into effect Wednesday — and they are seeking a monetary judgment.
Still, Brandon Bennett, director of code compliance for the city, was confident about enforcement in a Thursday night public meeting, even knowing the potential for lawsuits to be filed.
“There’s going to be challenges,” Bennett said Thursday night. “These businesses are going to get their lawyers involved.”
“Does that surprise me? No. Why doesn’t it surprise me? Because we aren’t talking about little $5 payouts, or teddy bear payouts, like a gaming machine is intended to be under state statute. We are talking about taking gaming machines that are netting these business owners thousands of dollars.”
Bennett would not comment on the lawsuit filed Friday. The Garcias and their attorney were not reached for comment.
Unanimously approved by the Fort Worth City Council in October, the new rules only allow game rooms in industrial zoned ares of the city. The business in the lawsuit, located west of Loop 820, is not in an industrial zone and is one block from single-family homes.
“What I told the businesses a week ago was this: Those of you not in an industrial zone, we are coming,” Bennett said at the meeting, adding that he has a contract to buy an unlimited supply of shipping containers to store confiscated eight-liners, sweepstakes machines and other games of chance.
Largely unregulated in Fort Worth before now, game rooms are legal if they offer only noncash prizes with a value of $5 or less.
However, Councilman Danny Scarth, who proposed the new rules, is worried about the crime that sometimes happens in and near game rooms and the difficulty of investigating illegal gaming.
Other requirements of the ordinance include:
▪ Game rooms are not allowed within 1,000 feet of a residential area, a church, a school, a hospital or another game room.
▪ The entrance must be marked with the words “game room” in 6-inch or larger black block letters and must be legible from 25 feet away.
▪ At least one unobstructed window is required, with a view of all the machines.
▪ Owners must provide parking, have fewer than 30 machines on the premises, submit site plans to the city and apply for a permit.
The Garcias’ lawsuit states that the window provision is “subterfuge to allow law enforcement to search without a warrant.”
It also says that making the business move because of zoning would “consequent almost total loss of business.”
Bennett said potential fines for violating the ordinance could add up to between $4,000 and $6,000 each day.
The City Council is also expected to vote on creating a fee of $160 per machine annually and a $500 annual permitting fee, Bennett said. The proposed fees will help pay for enforcement, which consists of a team of six senior code compliance officers and one supervisor.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984