McALLEN — Starr County law enforcement targeted three Rio Grande City eight-liner establishments and confiscated 131 machines from the businesses, while officers in Cameron County arrested a former Brownsville mayor in connection to gambling activity Friday night.
Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal called eight-liners a drain on the small town and said he and the City Commission will be “relentless” in targeting the long-familiar problem in the area. Eight-liners, also known as maquinitas, are technically legal, but commonly skirt the law and enter illegal territory when they pay out cash dividends after patrons play on gambling machines inside the businesses.
“Until the law changes, we’re going to keep proceeding,” Villarreal said. “Eight-liner operations in Rio Grande City won’t be permitted and won’t be tolerated.”
The establishments targeted Friday were in the eastern and northwestern parts of the city.
Villarreal said he and at least one other city commissioner met with the city administrator recently to express concern about eight-liners, and Rio Grande City police Chief Dutch Piper was called in.
Piper was not available for comment by press time Sunday.
The mayor said eight-liners affect other legitimate businesses in the small town. He said they create an income “vortex” so strong that an older generation is often seen literally taking young people by the hand to pay their bills — before they can gamble the money away.
When “you start getting these types of business, they take away from somebody,” he said.
While eight-liners in other areas may be more bold and visible, that’s not true in Rio Grande City, the mayor said.
Last month, law enforcement in Cameron County carried out an eight-liner raid operation in which more than 400 machines were confiscated and five businesses were targeted.
In recent comments to The Monitor, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said the establishments attract crime, including Mexican drug cartels.
“People say, ‘Oh, there’s no victims.’ Yes, there is,” Villarreal said of eight-liners. “This operation is ongoing. It seems that … you shut some down then other people are looking to come into an area and set up shop.”
Though, in Rio Grande City, the mayor said it appears eight-liner operators want to be legitimate business people, but they’re influenced by the cash that is exchanged.
“These people, as strange as it sounds, they’re not bad people,” he said.
Starr County Sheriff Rene Fuentes confirmed his agency assisted the city’s police department in the operation. He said three locations were targeted and no arrests were made. He echoed Villarreal’s comments and said authorities will continue to weed out illegal activity.
“Anyone with eight-liners is going to get a visit from us,” Fuentes said.
Jacqueline Armendariz covers education for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4434 or on Twitter, @jarmendariz.