On Jan. 12, more than a dozen Palestine Police officers conducted raids on three illegal gaming establishments. For illegal gambling in the city, it was game over.
But police also said businesses with legal, amusement, or charity-based machines, could continue to operate.
Now, however, business owners who want to operate legally say the city is sending mixed messages and providing no direction on how to bring their businesses into compliance. Business-owners say they need a clear set of rules under which to operate.
After the raids, Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey, and other city officials, said they didn’t oppose legal gaming.
Harvey, however, told the Herald-Press on Friday that he believes the best course of action is removing all machines. “Owning these machines is not illegal,” he said. “But we strongly encourage not having them at all.”
Owners who want to operate legally are confused.
“I want to do things legally; I don’t want to cause problems,” Lee Dailey, owner of the Pitt Grill in Palestine, told the Herald-Press on Friday. “I was told there was no legal way to do it. They (PPD) said they didn’t want them at all.”
On Jan. 15, City Manager Michael Hornes told the Herald-Press he believed those who want to operate legal gaming machines in town would come to City Hall or the police with questions. Dailey said he did exactly that, but got no answers at all.
“I told them I wanted to make the city happy and my customers happy,” he said. “Tell me what to do, and that’s what I’ll do. I don’t want to break the law.”
In response, PPD Capt. Mark Harcrow inspected Pitt Grill’s gaming operation. Harcrow told Dailey his operation was not within legal standards, but he couldn’t tell him how to bring the business into compliance.
“I am not an expert on this,” Harcrow said. “However, if a cash machine is giving a cash payout, there’s no way that is legal. I told him [Dailey] that.”
Dailey said he knows his system needs updating. The PPD, however, could not tell him how he should proceed. Dailey said his machines are not for profit and have donated $80,000 to Blue Skies over Austin, an Autism charity. Any other money, he said, goes towards operating costs.
“We assumed what we were doing was legal,” Dailey said. “I don’t want to cause waves. I just need to know what to do.”
Harvey said he is encouraged by local business-owners coming to the police with questions. “Coming to us is pretty significant. Having that dialogue is positive.”
Ridding the city of illegal gambling activity protects residents from not only the activity, but also public safety problems associated with it, such as property, and even violent, crimes, Harvey said.
Legal gaming machines in Texas, however, raise money for charities, ranging from veterans causes to Muscular Dystrophy.