VERNON - An Arkansas man has been sentenced after pleading guilty to operating an illegal gambling game room in Vernon.
Emmett Roy Coleman, 73, of Hatfield, Arkansas, was placed on probation for eight years following his guilty plea in an illegal gambling case in the 46th Judicial District Court of Wilbarger County Thursday morning. Coleman was also ordered not to operate a gaming facility in Wilbarger, Hardeman or Foard counties during the term of his probation.
Authorities said Coleman was the owner and operator of the former Coleman Game Room on Texas Street near downtown Vernon. The Coleman Game Room contained numerous gaming machines commonly referred to as "eight liners." The Vernon Police Department initiated an investigation of the game room in March of this year, after receiving several reports from citizens that the game room was paying cash out to customers. In Texas, game rooms are not permitted to pay out cash but may only provide customers with trinkets of a value less than $5.00.
After receiving the information about the cash payouts, Chief of Police Tom Wilson went into the game room undercover to investigate the operation of the game room. Wilson played the machines in the game room and observed several customers "cashing out" their tickets and receiving cash prizes. In addition, Chief Wilson was able to win some money on the machine and he received a cash payment as he was leaving the business.
As a result of the information gathered from the undercover operation, the police obtained a search warrant and raided the game room seizing over $10,000 in cash and numerous game machines. District Attorney Staley Heatly's office has since filed an additional seizure case in the 46th District Court claiming that the building housing the game room is subject to forfeiture as it was used as an illegal gambling place.
After raiding the facility, the police interviewed numerous employees who confirmed that they had been trained to pay out cash to customers on a routine basis. One employee said that they had paid out up to $2,600 to a winner and that customers often won over $100 or $200 at a time.
"The Vernon Police Department did an extremely thorough job investigating this case," stated Heatly. "Chief Wilson and his officers should be commended for all of their hard work."
Heatly said illegal gambling is normally a Class A Misdemeanor. However, Heatly charged the case as engaging in organized criminal activity which increased the charge to a felony. In addition to the probated sentence Coleman was ordered to pay a fine of $4,000 and complete 100 hours of community service.
District Attorney Staley Heatly prosecuted the case and District Judge Dan Mike Bird presided over the hearing and assessed the sentence. Coleman was represented by Bob Estrada of Wichita Falls.