County Wide 8-Liner Bust Closes 14 Businesses

A three month undercover investigation came to an end Wednesday with more than a dozen arrests. The Rusk County Sheriff's Department says they seized more than $700,000 in illegal 8-liner game machines and $300,000 in cash.

The county-wide raid started inside the Rusk County Courthouse. Carla Watson was arrested at her desk. She's an employee in the Rusk County District Clerk's Office. Police say she's also the owner of an illegal gambling operation. Detectives lead Watson across the street to the Rusk County Jail, and charged her with five felony counts of Organized Criminal Activities.

But Watson was not alone. County wide, 14 others were arrested for similar charges, as the county cracked down on 8-liner gaming rooms.

Kilgore Detective Frank Baggett spent three months on the investigation. "It's something we've never investigated before, so it took some time to learn how to do it. When we started off, we merely were using tape recorders and things like that. As the investigation progressed, we moved into undercover video surveillance."

Detectives say the gaming rooms pay out prizes to 8-liner players, including cash, gift vouchers, and re-play vouchers. 28 8-liners were confiscated at the Henderson Game Room on Highway 79. But Vickie Helsel, the owner of the machines says she doesn't run a casino. She admits to giving out re-play vouchers to winners, but believes that's not against the law. "When they walk out of here, that card means nothing. Just like you go to Wal Mart and you play the crane machine, and all of that, you win stuff out of them. You get to take it home with you. Here, you don't get to take nothing out of here with you."

But Sheriff James Stroud disagrees. "It's obvious to me why this is going on. It's very profitable. But it is illegal. And the majority of these are a gambling casino only."

Warrants remain for 22 people in connection with the game rooms. Many of them did not show up at their businesses Wednesday morning as expected. That makes detectives believe there may have been a leak prior to the raids.

By the end of the day, more than 100 8-line machines from 14 businesses in Rusk County stopped being entertainment, and became evidence.