SULLIVAN CITY, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — In mid-September, when the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office raided a game room called Fireball City, investigators arrested everyone.
They arrested the supervisor. They arrested the silver exchange clerks. They even arrested the man behind the snack bar.
The people who own Fireball City, however, apparently slipped away. More than a week after the raid, they haven’t been arrested or charged with any crime.
“They’re still working on it,” said Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra. “We have not identified them yet.”
On paper, though, the people behind Fireball City aren’t hard to find.
Jesus Alberto Garcia Jr., 38, of Palmview and Jose Guadalupe Flores, 48, of Rio Grande City submitted a game room application for Fireball City in May, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
Fireball City planned to offer customers the opportunity to play slot machine-style games with names like Wheel of Coins, Life of Luxury and 5 Treasures, according to the application, which is dated May 4.
Gambling is illegal in Texas, but state law includes an exception for games that reward players “exclusively with noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items, that have a wholesale value available from a single play of the game or device of not more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once or $5, whichever is less.”
Rene Guerra, who served as Hidalgo County district attorney from 1982 to 2014, said he’d never seen a game room that followed the law.
“There’s no legal game rooms,” Rene Guerra said, adding that nobody would play a slot machine if they couldn’t actually win anything.
Some game rooms simply ignore the law and pay winners in cash. Others reward players with silver-colored pellets. Players take the pellets to nearby boutiques or silver exchanges, which swap the pellets for cash.
The boutiques and silver exchanges are frequently located in tiny sheds within walking distance of the game rooms.
Concerns about illegal gambling haven’t stopped many small towns, including Sullivan City, from issuing permits to game rooms.
Sullivan City started accepting game room applications in May.
On the application for Fireball City, which Garcia signed under the penalty of perjury, Garcia and Flores are listed as the owners and operators of Fireball City.
“Just because they applied for the permit doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the owners and operators,” Eddie Guerra said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office investigation remains ongoing.
According to the application, Garcia and Flores planned to operate Fireball City through a corporation called AGFJ Amusement LLC. CBS 4 News couldn’t find any corporation named AGFJ Amusement LLC in Texas.
Garcia and Flores did create a corporation named AGJF Management LLC in April, according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. AGJF Management LLC also filed paperwork to operate under the name Fireball City Amusement.
The Sheriff’s Office raided Fireball City on Sept. 13 after conducting at least one undercover operation.
During the operation, investigators received cash payouts of $5 or more, which is illegal under Texas law, according to affidavits filed in the case. The affidavits don’t contain any details about how many undercover operations the Sheriff’s Office conducted before the raid or how much cash Fireball City paid out.
Investigators charged nine people with gambling promotion, a Class A misdemeanor; keeping a gambling place, a Class A misdemeanor; possession of a gambling device, equipment or paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor; and engaging in organized criminal activity, a state jail felony.
Fireball City shut down after the raid.
Garcia didn’t respond to requests for comment at the phone number and email address listed on the application.
The application didn’t include contact information for Flores. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.