BELTON — Less than a dozen game rooms may soon be left in Bell County following the application deadline that was set for last Friday.
Only a dozen applications were submitted to the county, Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt told the Commissioners Court on Monday. The county’s new ordinance regulates game rooms in the county, requiring them to get registered and undergo an inspection to make sure they are in compliance.
Mahlstedt, who enforces the county’s new game room ordinance, said that as of Friday just four businesses — one in Temple, three in Killeen — had been fully permitted. Seven businesses in Temple, Belton and Killeen were awaiting inspections and only one — a downtown Belton game room — had been denied.
While a dozen have applied for the permit, officials said many other game rooms have decided to close or move under the six machine limit regulated by the state.
“I’ve talked to a few operators who own some of those other game rooms and they told us that they are dropping down to five or less,” Mahlstedt said. “A lot of them are tied into leases that they are trying not to break.”
State law defines game rooms as those businesses with six or more amusement redemption machines that allow players to win prizes completely, or partially, by chance. Game rooms are also limited by state law to awarding players with non-cash merchandise prizes, such as toys or novelties, with a wholesale value of less than $5 or 10 times the amount charged to play.
Game rooms that receive a permit, and were created before Jan. 1 of this year, are exempt from restrictions such as not being able to have a game room within 2,000 feet of a neighborhood, school or place of worship.
The game rooms that have been approved include Charity Game Changer, Lucky Treasures Sweepstakes and Next Level Sweepstakes in Killeen as well as Lucky 7s Internet Café in Temple.
Pending applications include five rooms in Killeen, and one each in both Temple and Belton. Mahlstedt said he planned to conduct the inspections of these businesses over the next week to determine if they complied with the ordinance or not.
Mahlstedt said that he has already talked to the only business that has been denied for the permit, Kensho Social Club in Belton.
The club, Mahlstedt said, didn’t receive the permit due to being too close to a church and not qualifying for the distancing exemption. The business was started after Jan. 1, the cutoff day for the grandfathering exemption.
The owner “knows that if he drops down to five or less machines he will not fall under the requirements,” Mahlstedt said. “He does have other stuff going on with his business that he can potentially stay open doing that as long as he drops his numbers down.”
Mahlstedt said he has been keeping local police departments updated on the ordinance and those who have either received their permit or have been denied.
Alejandra Arreguin, Temple Police Department spokeswoman, said in August that the department had been on the lookout for illegal game rooms but this new ordinance just shifts who they report them to.
“The Temple Police Department always keeps an eye out for illegal game activity at game rooms,” Arreguin said. “However, the county Commissioners Court passed a new law concerning the permitting of game rooms that the Fire Marshal’s office oversees now. Any information we received we pass along to them.”
The county has also been working to address concerns from local American Legions that are unsure if they require a permit from the county.
Mahlstedt said state law only defines a game room as a for-profit business, with the county creating an exemption for bingo halls with the machines. American Legions, which are non-profits and not bingo halls, do not fall within either category.
While officials consult with attorneys, Mahlstedt said he would not enforce the ordinance at American Legion facilities.
BELL COUNTY GAME ROOMS
Here are the game rooms that made applications to Bell County by Friday:
• Charity Game Changer, 701 W. Elms Road in Killeen
• Lucky 7s Internet Café, 2807 W. Adams Ave. in Temple
• Lucky Treasures Sweepstakes, 4302 E. Rancier Ave. in Killeen
• Next Level Sweepstakes, 403 E. Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen
• Brazos Billiards, 2704 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd. in Killeen
• Grand Gifts, 1312 E. Rancier Ave in Killeen
• High Society 1, 1102 W. Jasper Drive in Killeen
• High Society 2, 4001 E. Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen
• High Society 3, 808 S. 31st St. in Temple
• High Society 4, 2154 N. Main St. in Belton
• Wager’s Internet Café, 4400 E. Central Texas Express in Killeen
• Kensho Social Club, 112 E. Central Ave. in Belton
SOURCE: Bell County