It seems almost every independently run convenience store I go in has a small bank of video gaming (gambling) machines, also known as eight-liners, tucked away somewhere in the store. We get a lot of questions about these machines, so figured I’d study up a little.
Laws on video gaming machines vary from state to state. Texas is surrounded by states that allow gambling, leading to a high number of attempts to circumvent laws against gambling in Texas. Section §47 of the Texas Penal Code defines gambling but in §47.01(4) you will find the provision that has been litigated for over a decade that excludes “gambling devices” that are defined as “any electronic, electromechanical, or mechanical contrivance designed, made, and adapted solely for bona-fide amusement purposes if the contrivance rewards the player exclusively with non-cash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items, that have a wholesale value available from a single play of the game or device of not more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once or $5, whichever is less.”
- Regarding the “charitable sweepstakes” issue: Typically this is done by some type of an association being made with the charity group by the owner of the 8-liners. The players put their money into the machine as a “donation” and you are allowed to play the game for free. At the end of the day the Charity may pay the owner of the machines $.90 out of every $1.00 collected. This is not an exception to the law.
- The use of “door prizes” to attract customers is presumed to be legal,provided the players are not given additional entries into the door prize drawing based on the number of credits they win on a game or device.
- The following could result in prosecution – Any award of non-cash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties that have a wholesale value available from a single play of the game or device of more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once, or $5.00, whichever is less. The accumulation or stacking of credits/tickets toward the purchase of more valuable prizes will be considered to be a violation of the law if the accumulated credits exceed the maximum value for a prize which can be awarded from the machine as noted above. The wholesale value of the prize, not the ticket, available from a single play, must be no more than 10 times the amount charged to
play or $5.00, whichever is less.
The Difficulty of Enforcement
Gathering enough evidence to prosecute illegal gaming operations costs thousands of dollars and numerous man hours in already stretched thin police departments and district attorney offices. The machines are fairly portable and can be removed by simply unplugging them and wheeling them away on a dolly. Operations have been known to shut down and move overnight when there is suspicion of investigation. Due to the high volume of money involved, a few police officers have also been bribed to tip off the owners of illegal operations as occurred in Tarrant County in 2008.
As several articles report, it is quite often people on a fixed-income, the unemployed, or the elderly who play on these machines. There is a reason the big casino across the border builds a new hotel building every year. And there is a reason individuals are willing to risk a $4,000 fine and maximum sentence of a year in jail for running illegal gaming machines. Gambling is a sure-fire money maker for the owner.