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  • Adam C. Brooks

ORANGE COUNTY | Game room meeting held to a crowded house.

By Ginger Broomes

The Orange County Commissioners’ Court held a special workshop Tuesday morning to a room so packed with concerned citizens that some attended the meeting out in the hallway. It was a chance for citizens to voice their opinions on county regulations for game rooms. Or rather, the lack of regulation.

Judge John Gothia opened by stating that the workshop was the second step – community input - in getting some county game room regulations in place. Currently individual towns and cities have their own rules and regulations regarding these businesses, but it has only been since 2019 that the counties have been allowed to put their own rules in place. For those game rooms that operate outside city limits, which is the majority, it has been largely unregulated.

The court agreed it was well past time to do something about these establishments, with Commissioner Theresa Beauchamp sharing her own experience with game rooms.

“And the day that I saw a young girl, about 17, walk down Highway 12 in her pajamas, pulling a suitcase, and going into one of those game rooms…you know what they’re doing,” Beauchamp told the courtroom. “That’s what we’re here for today.”

The majority of those who spoke were Mauriceville residents. Currently the area in and around Mauriceville has at least eight known game rooms in their small community. These windowless establishments operate late into the night and have become a hotbed of criminal activity, not only in the game rooms themselves, but along surrounding highways and in neighborhoods.

Matt Ortego, Constable Precinct 4, said, “Law enforcement has had their own version of organized crime in the form of game rooms. We have seen drugs, prostitution, and the measures these game rooms have taken to secure their establishment include a cage you walk into as you enter - to make sure you are not a police officer. The officer might be held there while the operation is cleaned up of incriminating activity.

“I am asking the court to help law enforcement shut down these game rooms once and for all. Let’s pass the ordinances to shut these down.”

Chris Sowell, a resident of Mauriceville for all his 44 years, and a single father, stated he had never been concerned about crime his entire life, until the game rooms started popping up. Now he worries about his children, especially since the recent robbery of his neighbor Top Deck, Inc. at 3:15 am one morning in June.

“A friend of ours at Top Deck was robbed, less than two miles of our house by one of these people who frequent game rooms. I later went in one of these game rooms to check it out, and was told I needed a membership to enter. To become a member, I’d have to be there 4 times, and have a sponsor. This guy (who robbed Top Deck) could’ve come to my house, robbed my shop.”

“There’s an estimate of a quarter of a million dollars going through these game rooms every week,” Sowell said. “And not one person who owns these game rooms lives in or around Mauriceville, or even Texas. There’s no money going back into the community. There’s no benefit to these places.”

Multiple residents and business owners told the court that in addition to an uptick in thefts and vagrancy, there has also been evidence that human trafficking – specifically child trafficking – may be taking place as well.

“I watched a car drive around one of these game rooms, drop off a woman and a child, and then another car pick them up. An hour later that car dropped off the woman and child in front of the game room, then left,” said another resident.

Today’s hearing, made clear how Orange County citizens and law enforcement feel about these game rooms. The next step is for the county to draft up the rules and regulations in such a way that when offenders are caught, there is no getting out of it. It is expected to only take a couple months to finalize, and then enforce.

Multiple attendees Tuesday summed up the game room situation this way: “Let’s strangle them with rules and make them sorry they ever came to Orange County.”

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