By CLINT FOSTER
Eight venues in Palo Pinto County – seven of which were in Mineral Wells – were shut down Thursday afternoon in a large-scale gambling sting that was the culmination of an extended illegal gambling investigation.
The Mineral Wells Police Department worked in concert with the Palo Pinto County Sheriffs Office, county constables and Texas Department of Public Safety computer forensics specialists, troopers and criminal investigation officers to simultaneously conduct search warrants at eight different locations suspected of illegal gambling operations.
The locations hit included Wildkat Sweepstakes, the location formally known as Cowboys Internet Cafe, Tri 7 Sweeps, the Brazos Lounge, Mineral Wells Sweeps, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2399 and the American Legion, all in Mineral Wells, as well as Longhorn Smokes & Stuff at Possum Kingdom Lake.
“This has been an ongoing investigation for some time now,” said Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer, while observing the raid on the sun-baked streets of downtown Mineral Wells. “My position, along with the district attorney and some advice from the attorney general’s office, was to make this operation simultaneous with eight search warrants in eight different locations.”
According to Mercer, operating a gambling front is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, while simply participating in illegal gambling is a Class C. He said the purpose of the raid was not necessarily to arrest everyone involved, but he said charges would be filled.
“Theoretically all the players could be arrested if we chose to do so, but that’s not the point of it,” he said. “The point is to get rid of it. So my suggestion would be to anybody who wants to put one of these in, that they go somewhere else to do it.”
Many people left the locations peacefully after offering their respective testimonies. Ironically, as one location was in mid raid, several people approached the storefront – seemingly as customers – only to be greeted by numerous law enforcement personnel conducting their investigation inside.
Although incarceration was not the purpose of the raid, Mercer said three arrests were made in the sting. Two were made at the Wildkat – for offenses yet unknown – and another at Tri 7 Sweeps – across the street from the Mineral Wells Police Station – for possession of methamphetamine between 1 and 4 grams. Mercer said drug paraphernalia was also found at one of the locations and he has reason to believe drug dealing might have often occurred at some of the venues as well.
“That’s what these things harbor, is people that deal in and mess with drugs,” Mercer said. “Also it’s a problem for our elderly people. They’ll go in and spend all their money on [gambling]. We’ve had a number of people call and complain because their mother or dad was spending all their Social Security money on this stuff.”
Mercer said the raid was an overall success without serious incident.
He added now all that is left to do is the paperwork, getting everyone interviewed and gathering up all the physical equipment.
As a parting thought to anyone considering involvement with illegal gambling, Mercer offered this stern warning:
“Quite frankly it’s just not what we want in the community and I don’t know how many times we’re going to have to do this before they understand that,” he said. “But I can assure you, if they continue to do it, we’re going to continue to bust them for it.”
The Index will provide updates on the raid as more information comes in.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55