Legislation Would Allow Local Elections to Legalize or Prohibit Eight-Liner Gambling Machines

A Laredo Democrat has introduced legislation to allow voters in political subdivisions to either prohibit or legalize eight-liners, gambling machines that are illegal in Texas unless they dispense awards of less than $5.

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo) has introduced two pieces of legislation, House Bill (HB) 647 and House Joint Resolution 37, a constitutional amendment. The constitutional amendment would have to be approved by Texas voters on this year’s ballot in November, and HB 647’s passage would be contingent on the voters approving HJR 37.

If HJR 37 is approved by voters, eight-liners would be outright banned statewide, but individuals would then have the opportunity to follow the process for permitting them in their respective political subdivisions — counties, municipalities, and justice precincts.

Raymond told The Texan on Thursday that while he has an unfavorable view of gambling, he had worked with those who support and oppose the legalization of eight-liners and believes this proposal is a “very good compromise.”

“You would basically be leaving it to communities,” Raymond said, comparing his idea to the concept of allowing localities to vote on whether to allow the sale of alcohol for off-premise consumption.

If passed, the law would require at least 10 individuals to request a petition from the county clerk, and within 60 days the petition would need to be signed by at least 35 percent of the registered voters who voted in the most recent governor’s race. 

The commissioners court of the county in which the petition was circulated would be responsible for ordering the election if the petition ultimately met the requirements.

The bill is designed to give voters as much control as possible. A justice precinct or a municipality’s local option election would overrule a county’s local option election, and a justice precinct local option election would overrule a municipality’s local option election if the justice precinct is entirely within the boundaries of the municipality.

Under the proposed law, eight-liners could not have a payout of more than $1,500, and stiff penalties would be set for operating eight-liners that exceed that award amount. 

A person who operated an eight-liner with an award of more than $1,500 but less than $20,000 would be guilty of a state jail felony. If the eight-liner had a payout of more than $20,000 but less than $100,000 the offense would be a third degree felony, while operating an eight-liner with a payout of more than $100,000 would be a second degree felony.

The legislation would not impact other prohibitions on gambling.

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