2014-11-19 / Front Page

8-liners spotted at El Toro Game Room

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Reporter


THE EL TORO GAME ROOM at Lyford may soon be re-opening after being closed down twice last year by a task force headed by Willacy County District Attorney Bernard Ammerman. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) THE EL TORO GAME ROOM at Lyford may soon be re-opening after being closed down twice last year by a task force headed by Willacy County District Attorney Bernard Ammerman. (Photo by Allen Essex) Local lawmen spotted workers unloading 8-liner gaming machines from a large truck at the El Toro Game Room Monday on the north edge of Lyford.

Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence brought up the issue at a Lions Club meeting on Monday, alerting community leaders that Chief Deputy Jose “Pepe” Sandoval saw the controversial machines being once again being installed.

Lions Club President Tommy Rains also said he had seen the machines being unloaded at the hall. “I don’t know who’s doing it yet,” the sheriff said.

Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. has been unable to gain support for an ordinance he proposed that would give the county authority to regulate 8- liners, Spence said.

Gonzales confirmed that County Commissioners Eliberto “Beto” Guerra, Noe Loya and Fred Serrato vowed to vote against regulating the machines, which are said by Rio Grande Valley law enforcement officials to almost always be used for illegal gambling by paying winners off in cash amounts that exceed the $5 limit on merchandise value they are restricted to under state law.

Gonzales said that Serrato has admitted several times in open, public meetings that he plays 8-liner machines, also called “maquinitas’ (little machines) and has won cash.

“That’s against the law,” Gonzales said.

Commissioner Dora Perez said she has nothing against the machines, but does not want them too close to places where children gather, such as schools, or churches, Ammerman said. “That’s her only objection.”

Willacy County District Attorney Bernard Ammerman said merely owning or using 8- liner machines does not violate state law unless winners are paid in cash.

“I’m the prosecutor. If someone (law enforcement agency) brings me a case, I will act,” he said. “But last time, nobody acted, so I did.” After many 8-liner parlors coninued operating in violation of state law “with impunity” for months, he organized a task force made up of many agencies, including the sheriff’s department, city police, constables, Texas Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Border Patrol.

“We were getting a lot of complaints and nothing was being done,” Ammerman said. “ We hit four operations in the county including the Lucky Barn, El Toro (twice) and Horse Shoe Entertainment and the Golden Arcade, all in Lyford, the Copacabana Arcade in Sebastian and others in 2013,” the DA said.

Machines and large amounts of cash were seized in cities and rural areas. the DA told the Raymondville Chronicle and Willacy County News after the raids.

So far, no one has applied to open a gaming hall at the El Toro hall, which is now inside Lyford city limits, Lyford City Secretary Lydia Moreno said.

Gonzales said all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were fully supportive of Willacy County in its efforts last year to shut down 8-liner emporiums.

Lyford requires casino operators to obtain a business license, as well as a city permit for each machine, she said.

Cities, such as Raymondville, set limits on how close 8-liners can be to homes, churches and schools, Ammerman said.

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