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CCPD discusses effort to combat illegal payouts at area game rooms following latest raid

"There's a lot of people who say it's harmless entertainment...There is criminal activity, a lot of criminal activity, going on behind the scenes," said Chief Green.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A police raid at the Sweetwater Club, off of Alameda and Airline, led to four people being arrested on a variety of illegal gambling charges.

Items seized from the property included gambling equipment, two vehicles, cash, and what authorities say is other evidence of illegal gambling.

Assistant Chief, Todd Green, with the Corpus Christi Police Department said the department's narcotics and vice investigations division served the warrant Wednesday, following their investigation. "We're hoping it sends a very clear message that if you are engaging in illegal gambling in these game rooms, which we realize there is plenty of it going on, they cease and desist."

This investigation all began with a tip that illegal gambling was going on inside, "There's been a misconception here in the last year or so that these game rooms are being operated legally. Just the fact that you open a game room, doesn't make it illegal. What makes it illegal is when you start paying out cash money for rewards."

According to Texas law, the prizes awarded can not exceed 10 times the amount to play the machine one time or five dollars, whichever is less.

The police department is working on this latest case with the support of the Nueces County District Attorney's office. Among those on the scene of Wednesday's investigation was Assistant District Attorney, Angelica Hernandez.

"There were a lot of patrons here that received warning citations.  We want to send a message, we are coming, the land owners that are renting or leasing we are coming for them too," said Hernandez.

All four people arrested were charged with Gambling Promotion, Keeping a Gambling Place, and Possession of a Gambling Device.  All three charges are class A misdemeanors under Texas law, punishable by up to a year in prison and/or a $4,000 fine.

Three out of the four people arrested were additionally charged with Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon after officers discovered they were all armed with handguns during the commission of another crime.  

Fourteen patrons of the game room were issued warning citations for gambling and released at the scene.  

"It's not as innocent as it may seem to the customer that goes in there and just wants to enjoy themselves for a short period of time," said 

Chief Green said there could be at least 100 active game rooms in the city and surrounding area. However, there is no exact count, because currently there is no ordinance or law requiring these types of establishments to register with the city or county.

"There's a lot of people who say it's harmless entertainment, 'Why should we go after people that are minding their business and if they want to go blow their money on a machine? Why should we worry about it?' There is criminal activity, a lot of criminal activity, going on behind the scenes that people don't see," said Chief Green.

It was earlier this week when 46-year-old Nathan Nichols entered a guilty plea in reference to operating illegal gambling businesses in Corpus Christi from March of 2018 to 2019.

"That particular investigation is an example of it, a big example of what has taken place, money laundering, bank fraud."

Nichols also admitted to conspiring with others to steal sensitive U.S. Army property valued at over two million dollars.

In an effort to stop illegal cash payouts at game rooms, last month County Commissioners discussed regulating these game rooms. So far, nothing is set in stone.

"We've had discussions with them, with whatever ordinance they come up with, from our standpoint it will be one more tool for us to use, to go after these game rooms depending on how they craft that ordinance," said Green.

CCPD hopes that the bust will send a clear message to other game rooms in the city that if they engage in any illegal gambling operations, they will face the consequences.

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