Firefighters responded to a fire call inside the Word of Life Church in Houston, Texas, over the weekend and the responders found something other than flames and smoke upon arrival. The call resulted in the discovery of over 100 gambling machines inside the facility.
Large gaming room discovered
The firefighters who arrived at the church saw no signs of a fire. Instead, they found the individual who reported the incident, a man who said he was locked in the facility via an electronic door lock. Once the firemen made their way inside the church, they found a large gaming room. Deputies from Harris County were then called to the site, and several people were removed from the facility in handcuffs.
Individuals on the site were questioned about the game room, but no arrests were made. According to the pastor of the church, the facility shares the building with another business. Pastor Anthony Scott said: “I just wanted to make sure that everybody knows that what happened here last night is completely separate from the Word of Life Church. There are two different entities that are separated by this wall and a wrought iron fence, which is outside. We have no access out there, but the way that the stories were framed was very concerning and appalling to us as it made us look like we were the ones that were in fault or running some kind of gaming machines.”
According to the pastor, the church is unable to afford the entire building, so the landlord put up a wall to separate the church from the other section of the building. It was this area in which the games were found. Pastor Scott stated further that he does not know who the manager of the other building is and that he does not have any information on the business that they operate.
Texas has limited gambling
Whether the church or another entity is found responsible for the gambling machines, it is not uncommon for states where gambling is limited to see such operations pop up. Most types of gambling are illegal in Texas. Legislators in the state are generally against relaxing their current gambling laws because of moral beliefs or what they believe to be negative social effects caused by gambling.
Gamblers can purchase lottery tickets and place wagers at horse tracks or greyhound dog race facilities. As far as casino gambling is concerned, the options are extremely limited. Some of the Native American tribes in the state are allowed to own and operate a casino as long as the facility is located on their reservation lands.
Right now, casinos are operating in Eagle Pass and near Livingston, both offering casino-style gaming. For a fully-functioning casino, players must visit the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino, which has gaming machines and a poker room. This venue is the closest approach to Las Vegas-style gaming that can be found in Texas.
In the aftermath of the recent incident involving the Word of Life Church, it is still unclear who owns the machines. Thomas Gilliland released a statement on behalf of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office about the incident. Mr. Gilliland said: “The address of the property is listed as the same as the church, it’s a building on the church property. When the call came in to the fire department, it listed that address. Same as when we responded to the call, it lists their address as the property. Slip said ‘Word of Life/pine oak Baptist.’” We would not know if a separate building was being rented to someone else.”
The sheriff’s office also reported that they did not find any real money being exchanged in the game room, which would make the facility legal. The investigation is still ongoing at this time.