PA listens to public about gaming rooms and gaming machines

Published 5:56 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

The city of Port Arthur is trying to get a better handle on game rooms in the city.

One of the steps in the process is getting the public’s opinion.

The Port Arthur City Council conducted a public hearing for game rooms in the city at their regular meeting on Tuesday night. The council will later consider a zoning ordinance to add a land-use description for gaming rooms, add definitions for a gaming room and gaming machine and establishing an off-street parking space requirement that will go into effect on Sept. 1.

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Paul Brown, senior planner for the planning and zoning department, said game rooms would be allowed in light commercial, heavy commercial and industrial zoned districts.

The new requirements would be one off-street parking per two gaming machines for a building, facility or other place containing any gaming machines.

The original ordinance, which was approved in March 2015, lacked organization and listed several points of contact for those who own the establishments.

Since March, 175 citations were issued in three months.

But monitoring of the sites has dropped off a bit as a new ordinance with new guidelines will be drafted.

“When the ordinance first came out, it hit us, it was an absolute nightmare,” Officer Mike Hebert said. “Now we have a team in place. We lacked teamwork from the very beginning. Now we have that.”

Sherry Vital, assistant city attorney, told council that this is one of a few ordinances that are multi-departmental. For example, when someone comes to the city wanting to open a game room they must go through planning and zoning, acquire proper permitting and pay fees, the building must be up to code, and the business must not be within 300 feet of a school, hospital or church.

“We want to streamline the process and have a single point of contact for those who want to open a game room or have games in say, a gas station,” she said.

Vital is looking to Harris County’s permit process for guidance. The neighboring county has the documentation on their website, which is something Vital would like to emulate.

Parking is another issue to be tackled in the new gaming ordinance. For this the team is looking toward Galveston and Houston’s guidelines. There will be car parking requirements and restricted operation hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., if the issue is finalized and approved.

Brown said establishments that have one gaming machine are considered a gaming facility. Also, the city council has the authority to make zoning changes.

Harold Doucet Sr., District 4 councilman, asked if the city would be ready to roll by Sept. 1.

City Manager Brian McDougal said it’s in the city’s budget and they will have a temporary plan in place until the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 councilman, rhetorically asked why the gaming rooms are always so full since a small amount of prizes are given away. Brown said he didn’t know because he never been in one.

“They (gaming rooms) impact retail and they’re sucking a lot of money out of the community. They’re sucking money from the bingo halls too. Nobody goes to the bingo halls anymore. How many have shut down?” Lewis asked.

Patrick Melvin, police chief, said his department is making busts in game rooms daily.

Lewis asked if a game room is in violation, is a particular machine confiscated or all of them. Melvin said it depends on the situation.

Cal Jones, District 2 councilman, asked if there were curfews attached to the ordinance. Brown said they would close at 10 p.m. by Sept. 1.

McDougal said there were once 62 game rooms in the city, now they’re down to a little more than 40.

Resident Warren Field said having game rooms in the city was “a joke.”

“They’re not trading stuffed bears and candy canes for prizes,” he said. “We need an ordinance to ban this activity. That would be a good ordinance.”

In other city council business, the Port Arthur City Council voted to remove a resolution to approve the application of Concord EMS of Houston for an ambulance agreement to operate within the city of Port Arthur at their regular meeting on Tuesday night. Acadian Ambulance is currently the sole EMS provider in the city since 2010.

Concord’s application is still pending and the resolution could be placed on a future city council agenda.

Lewis said the reason he pulled the EMS ordinance from the agenda was the information needed to be verified and time to verify it.

Lastly, Stephen A. Mosely, general manager of The Breeze radio station, requested a $30,000 sponsorship agreement with city of Port Arthur for broadcast advertising.

Mosely gave a presentation on the history and programming to the city council.

Mosely said The Breeze currently reaches Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana with music and news broadcasts. With the additional funding they will be able to offer “More programming that impact the community.”

Afterward, Raymond Scott, District 1 city councilman, told Mosely his presentation was “very informative.”

“My deepest concern is that the station stay in the city,” Scott said.

Mayor Derrick Freeman said he had a very productive meeting with Mosely and he is hoping for the best.

Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 councilman, said in the past the city has purchased airtime from The Breeze.

“It provides a valuable service,” he said. “The Breeze provides a public service.”