By David Webb
Monitor Photo/Davvid Webb
Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt (left) and District Attorney Scott McKee hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an arrest resulting from a yearlong investigation into four gaming rooms in the Cedar Creek Lake area.
ATHENS–Raids on game rooms in the Cedar Creek Lake area Tuesday mark the start of a crackdown on illegal gambling in Henderson County, according to local law enforcement officials.
Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee and Sheriff Ray Nutt announced the initiative in a press conference after the execution of five search warrants earlier in the day. Law enforcement officers closed four game rooms in Eustace, Tool, Seven Points and Cap City, and they searched the Gun Barrel City home of the game rooms’ owner, John George Desanto.
Desanto, 53, was arrested on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and money laundering in the amount of $20,000 to $100,000, which is a second-degree felony, McKee said. At the time of his arrest on the charges related to illegal gambling, Desanto was out of jail on a $15,000 bond for the alleged manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs in October.
Desanto’s criminal record dates back to 2007, and it includes other arrests for organized criminal activity and illegal drug activity, according to Henderson County’s judicial record website.
The raids and Desanto’s arrest follow a yearlong investigation by the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Rangers and the Texas State Comptroller. McKee’s office requested the launch of the investigation. Thirty agents using all of their resources, including aircraft and cameras, participated in the investigation.
No one was arrested during the raids Tuesdays for illegal gambling, which is a Class C Misdemeanor, Nutt said. There was one arrest in Eustace related to the illegal possession of controlled substances.
McKee said law enforcement officers spent the day at all of Desanto’s business locations and his home searching safes and other “nooks and crannies.” A safe deposit box at Prosperity Bank also was searched, along with Desanto’s bank account records.
McKee said he expects the prosecution of Desanto to put an end to the small chain of game rooms he operated. He acknowledged game rooms reopened quickly in the past after previous raids.
The four game rooms operated a total of about 200 eight-liners. Law enforcement officers seized two full machines and the motherboards of the other 198 to put them out of commission.
“This investigation has taken almost a year,” McKee said. “We’ve done a lot more research than in the past.”
McKee said Henderson County law enforcement officials are grateful to state law enforcement officers for their help. “We couldn’t have done it locally without their help,” he said.
The investigation included the use of undercover officers going into the game rooms. The case against Desanto will be presented to a grand jury.
McKee said the operation of the game rooms needed to cease because they generated “unregulated money that was not being taxed and going out of the community for other purposes.”
The sheriff agrees that the recent raids will be more effective in shutting down the game rooms than in the past. “They won’t be as likely to open back up,” he said.
Other games rooms believed to be participating in illegal gambling remain open in Henderson County, but they are under scrutiny as well, Nutt said. Illegal gambling taking place on eight-liners in nightclubs and other businesses also risk legal proceedings, he warned.
The unadvertised game rooms are promoted by word of mouth, he noted.
Eight-liners are automated game machines similar to slot machines in casinos. Possession of an eight-liner machine is not illegal, but gambling on them is.
“This is the beginning,” Nutt said. “The game rooms are illegal, and they have a lot of dope going into them. A lot of people are playing in the game rooms who can’t afford to lose their money.”
Nutt said that in addition to illegal gambling and drug activity, the game rooms sometimes are the targets of armed robberies, making them dangerous for patrons. “We’re eventually going to wind up with a homicide,” he said.
McKee said illegal activity in game rooms is a problem in all of the state’s 254 counties, and the Texas Legislature needs to address the problem. “We have this problem everywhere,” McKee said. “The legislators need to take a look at it and do something.”