New rule for game rooms will make them more transparent

The Fort Worth City Council finally dropped the hammer on game rooms Tuesday night by approving rules that at least one owner said were designed “to eliminate, not regulate.”

There is little doubt that the council’s new regulations, which it has struggled with for months, will end some gaming operations. But council members were compelled to address what has become a legal — and in many cases, illegal — nuisance for residents in several neighborhoods.

Gambling houses are illegal in Texas, but game machines that award noncash prizes are allowed. The problem has been that too many establishments have found ways to circumvent the law and are, in fact, running gambling rooms.

Councilman Danny Scarth, whose east-side district has seen a proliferation of game rooms in recent months, popping up in convenience stores, strip malls and nondescript buildings, has been trying to find ways to regulate operations through city codes.

The new ordinance is much tougher than an earlier draft. It calls for such “amusement facilities” to be permitted only in light-industrial, medium-industrial and heavy-industrial districts. They must be at least 1,000 feet away from a residential area, church, school, hospital or another gaming room.

In addition, the ordinance requires signage on the entrance clearly stating that the establishment is a “game room,” at least one unobstructed window through which all machines are visible and specified parking.

The new law, under which current game room owners have 90 days to comply, makes the operations much more transparent, Scarth believes, allowing them to operate in the “light of day” as opposed to dark corners.

Enforcement of game room requirments has been a problem, but the new regulations should clarify the job for the city’s code compliance office, The office will need two additional senior enforcement officers and equipment at a first-year cost of $209,410.

If the ordinance is effective, the cost will be well worth it.