Odessa Mayor Javier Joven says his phone has exploded in recent months with concerned residents complaining about the proliferation of “game rooms” popping up all over Ector County, which has led both the city and county to look at passing more restrictive ordinances to reign them in. 

Now, however, the mayor says he is looking into a recent Texas court ruling that has declared slot machines, or “eight liners” machines as illegal in the eyes of the Texas Constitution, and he hopes the ruling will enable the city to ban slot machines in game rooms altogether. 

According to the mayor, there are presently 27 game rooms licensed to operate within city limits, and he estimates the total number in the county to be somewhere north of 55. 

Each licensee pays what Joven describes as a “small fortune” for each permit, which he says is interesting to see each business easily affording such staggering permit fees considering that state law says the most their customers are supposed to be able to win are non-cash prizes valued under five dollars. 

Generally, slot machines, more commonly known as “eight liners” are banned in Texas under the broad prohibition on lotteries and gambling operations. 

According to a legal brief prepared by the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Legislature adopted an exception known as the “fuzzy animal law” in 1993 that provided an exception for gaming devices as long as the most someone could win was a non-cash prize valued under five dollars, the intent of which was to provide an exception for children’s prizes. 

Under this small loophole, combined with a regulatory provision the legislature enacted, local governments began regulating and licensing game room businesses with eight liner machines. 

Joven says that illegal gambling operations “get their foot in the door” with permits to have eight liner machines under the fuzzy animal exception, “rolling the dice” that is it logistically difficult for law enforcement to catch them in the act of paying out higher illegal winnings. 

With the latest court ruling on the issue from the Second Court of Appeals, eight liner machines have been declared “lotteries” which are banned under the Texas Constitution, and Joven says he is looking into several possibilities the ruling has now opened up. 

“I am presently directing our legal staff to investigate whether the ruling will allow us to go ahead and enforce the Texas Penal Code which outlaws illegal gaming devices, which if we can we need to act accordingly. What is becoming clear with this ruling is that we can repeal all of our licensing ordinances to permit eight liners in games rooms and enact an ordinance outlawing eight-liner machines, illegal lotteries, and illegal gambling within the City of Odessa, and I plan to move swiftly on that, Joven told Odessa Headlines

“The Texas Constitution is clear that gambling is illegal in Texas, and the constitution reigns supreme in Odessa,” Joven added. 

The Odessa City Council will meet Tuesday, April 11, to discuss all possible actions the council can take, with Joven saying he believes the council is unified in finding the strongest possible actions to take to ensure gambling laws are respected within the city. 

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.