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SIU: Game over!

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit raided two illegal game rooms in East Montgomery County on Monday, arresting three people. They say Monday’s effort was only the beginning.

Three white females, Amanda Jane Dettling, a.k.a. Amanda or Mandy Whitmire, 50, of 25860 Coleman Dr. in Splendora; Linda Williams McCraw, 50, of 967 CR 444 in Dayton; and 68-year-old Billie Harrison McFarland of 7226 Oak Village in Humble, were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, which is a state jail felony and three class A misdemeanor charges, which were: keeping of a gambling place, gambling promotion and possession of gambling device/equipment/paraphernalia

SIU Lt. Philip Cash said the raids were the first of many planned, following a six-week investigation into over a dozen establishments that facilitate illegal gambling with the use of 8-liner machines.

In the past, law enforcement agencies seized the entire machines, which are large and heavy. They have since begun seizing only the motherboards from the machines, which is the most expensive part and prevents the game from functioning.

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Warrants were served on Monday at Don’s Place on FM 1485 near US 59 in New Caney, where officers removed 45 motherboards and $3,000 in cash and arrested Billie McFarland and High Rollers on Fostoria Road near Morgan Cemetery, where they removed 35 motherboards and $5,000 in cash.

Cash said some people see the illegal game rooms as an alternative to traveling to legitimate casinos. However, they fail to consider that because the game rooms are illegal, the machines are not regulated and the chances of winning are far lower.

The odds are never in the customer’s favor, with paybacks set at around 40 percent at best.

“They don’t ever set a machine to win the grand prize,” Cash said.

Sheriff Tommy Gage said his office has received numerous complaints not only from neighbors of the establishments, but also from friends and family members of those patronizing the game rooms, who are often living on fixed incomes and spending money they need to pay rent and buy groceries playing the machines instead.

“Gambling is an addiction, just like a drug or alcohol,” Cash said. “They have to have it and it becomes a daily issue, and then they spend their money gambling instead of buying groceries or paying rent.”

“It’s a very expensive addiction,” he said. “They have hopes of making more than they spend, but they don’t.”

Gamblers caught playing when the warrants were served did not go to jail, but were issued class C misdemeanor citations for gambling and must pay fines.

Cash said the businesses not only create problems for those addicted to gambling, but also attract other crimes, such as drug dealing. With many open 24 hours, he said, they create a gathering place for those who are not sleeping because they under the influence of drugs and for those seeking a place to make drug transactions where they might go unnoticed. There have also been shootings and robberies connected to some game rooms, in part due to the large amount of cash on hand.

High Rollers, the game room on Fostoria is a building with empty lots surrounding it and a travel home on one side believed to be used by the managers. Don’s Place, located on FM 1485, is in a strip shopping center.

The Sheriff said anyone involved in operating the establishments or illegally gambling there needs to be aware of the risk they are taking because his office has not intention of slowing their efforts to shut down these illegal businesses in Montgomery County. Gage and Cash said they are also working with the District Attorney’s office on taking action against property owners who lease to the game rooms if it can be proven they are aware of the illegal activities on their premises.

“In the state of Texas, if game rooms are in business to let folks gamble and to pay people for winning these games, it’s against the law,” Sheriff Gage said. “The people who are playing will be fined and the owners and managers are going to jail.”

Cash said there was a steady increase in illegal game rooms over the past few months, which is spread throughout the county, with the most on the east side. The SIU has assisted agencies in surrounding counties in shutting down such businesses, but Cash said as they are forced to close in one area, they pop up in another and Montgomery County is where many can be found at this time.

Pressure is also being applied to the companies who sell and service the machines. Some are in Harris County and some are out of state. Cash said they keep finding connections to the same companies again and again.

Cash and Gage said more warrants will be issued and additional arrests will occur.

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