October 13 — Odessa city council on Tuesday voted to postpone an action that would have made it harder for gambling halls to operate in the city.
Several council members said the postponement of the vote would give city administrators and legal staff more time to strengthen several proposed ordinance amendments and fill any legal loopholes that gambling hall operators had previously used to circumvent the law.
“Basically we wanted more time to study the issue,” said Councilor Steve Thompson, who supported fellow councilor Tom Sprawls’ motion to table the issue.
For example, Thompson said, the council initially wanted to pass an amendment that would prohibit gambling halls from being located within 1,000 feet of another gaming facility, church, educational facility, of a public health facility building or the boundary of a residential zoning district.
But that plan had to be scrapped after city attorney Natasha Brooks informed council that state law only allowed cities to impose a maximum location ban of 300 feet.
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but state law allows counties to pass a 1,000-foot ordinance, but cities don’t,” Thompson said. “So one of the things the city wants to do is see if we can work with the county to pass a county wide gambling hall ordinance.”
The council faced the same issue at Tuesday’s council meeting, when Midland District Attorney Jason Hamm challenged the legality of the city’s attempt to change its ordinance regulating gambling halls.
Hamm, who made his comments after the board had already voted unanimously to postpone its vote, told the board that the proposed amendments contained “a number of issues, inconsistencies and typos.” He also warned that some of their proposed efforts to more tightly regulate gambling halls were illegal. He cited the 1,000 foot rule as an example.
Hamm, who said he represents a client who owns a gambling hall in Odessa, also accused the city of unfairly targeting gambling establishments.
He argued that gambling halls should be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m., 7 days a week, rather than the city’s proposed closing time of 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. end. Currently, the city does not regulate the hours of gambling halls, so many of them are open 24 hours a day.
“The pool halls and dance halls are open until 2 am,” Hamm said. “For some reason the game rooms are distinguished.”
Hamm acknowledged that many of these gambling facilities are a haven for drugs, illegal gambling, violence, and many other crimes.
“My client is in favor of an ordinance that eliminates the scum,” said Hamm, who blamed the illegal activity on gambling halls owned by people who do not live in Odessa. “In recent years we have seen an influx of people from outside settling in.”
According to Odessa City Police records, at least 23 gambling halls are currently operating in Odessa.
The biggest problem is that the city’s current ordinance does very little to govern gambling halls, said Randy Brinlee, planning director.
Police chief Michael Gerke said police frequently destroy these gambling facilities for illegal exploitation and shut them down. But gambling hall owners have used a legal loophole to stay in business by transferring ownership to a spouse or other family member.
“The problem we’ve had is that we’re going to close one of these places, but by the end of the week they’re back on and running under new ownership,” Gerke said.
Under the proposed amended order, if ownership of an amusement arcade is transferred to another owner, it is automatically considered a new business and must meet all of the proposed new requirements.
For example, the proposed amendment to the ordinance would only allow new arcades to open in areas that are already zoned, planning director Randy Brinlee said in light and heavy industrial areas.
Businesses would be required to have 30 paved parking spaces plus one space for every 100 square feet of area over 2,000 square feet.
Arcade hours would also be limited to 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday.