A row of computers for sweepstakes gambling line a wall at Ranch 29 game room in Buchanan Dam. A recent court ruling declared eight-liner machines illegal. State law is not clear on the definition of eight-liners — just one of the many gray areas in Texas state gambling laws. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
As different government bodies move to regulate eight-liner game rooms popping up across the Highland Lakes, the people running those businesses say the games are legal and provide legitimate entertainment to their customers. One game room manager in Buchanan Dam said he welcomed the ordinances recently passed by the Llano County Commissioners Court and the Granite Shoals City Council.
“To me, ordinances are good,” said Jon Deba, director of operations for Restaurant Streaming Solutions in Austin. (An online search for this name by DailyTrib.com produced no results. An email to the company’s attorney to verify the name was not returned.)
“A lot of times, when people see a game room and they think, ‘Should I do this or not?’, if there’s an ordinance, to me, it’s safer,” Deba continued. “It legitimizes everything we do.”
Deba of Cedar Park spoke to DailyTrib.com in person at one of two game rooms he runs in Llano County: Ranch 29 on Texas 29 in Buchanan Dam. He also operates Lucky Lounge on RR 1431 in Kingsland.
The two locations couldn’t have been more different in style.
At Lucky Lounge, computers line the walls of a large room in a gray building with only one small window. The dark room smells of smoke, and metal ashtrays sit at each terminal. The front door is at the back of the building. The only sign is a vinyl banner on the west side.
In contrast, Ranch 29 has rows of large, uncovered windows in the front and along the west side of the building. Its sign, though not large, is in the front. At the time of this visit, all of the doors were open to let in cool air from a recent cold front. Customers walk into an open area, which Deba said soon will be a bar and restaurant.
The kitchen area is ready for appliances to be installed; the bar already sparkles with clean glasses hanging upside down along its length, although no food or drink are currently being sold. Machines line the walls of an adjacent light-filled room, and some are set up on a custom-made table in the center.
Deba explained how the system works and what he says makes it legal.
“We’re different because we sell music downloads,” he said. “We have a catalog of 22,000 songs, and when you download them, you help Texas artists. It’s a win-win.”
The system is no different from the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant Monopoly sweepstakes, he continued.
“You receive something tangible for your money,” he said.
Instead of hamburgers, customers get music downloads.
To play, customers tell a cashier they want to buy a certain number of music downloads. Although Deba’s examples were $1 a download, a visit to Lucky7downloads.com shows the songs sell for $1.25 each.
Customers also specify which machine they want to use. Newbies have one assigned to them. Accounts are set up by machine. Each customer must show identification and give the game room a home address to be typed into the account. They are then handed two receipts: one for the music download and the other with a number that will log them on to the designated eight-liner.
“This is not pay-to-play,” Deba said. “The sweepstakes is something you receive as a bonus when you buy music downloads. You play for free.”
Anyone can come to a game room and get 100 points a day to play in the sweepstakes without buying music, he continued.
“Just like the McDonald’s Monopoly, if you want to play Monopoly without buying anything, you can write in and get a free piece,” he said.
This reporter visited Lucky Lounge in Kingsland and bought $10 worth of music downloads. I was instructed to say “I want a $10 music gift card on Maverick” when I handed over the money. Maverick is the name of one of about 20 machines in the Kingsland game room.
I typed the sweepstakes number into the computer and used a mouse to select which game I wanted to play. I chose “West Gone Wild,” which used graphics and symbols of the Old West. Because I spent $10 and was awarded 100 free points, I started my game with 1,100 points.
To play, I first had to use the mouse to click the number of points I wanted to use for that spin. The maximum number of points you can play on one spin is 202.
I then put the cursor on a red graphic in the lower-righthand corner that read “REVEAL.” When I clicked on REVEAL, the icon images on the screen began to roll like a slot machine and then quickly stopped. Because of a “wild card,” I was given points equal to 50 cents, according to the information on the screen.
I played until I had used up all of my points. The machine’s calculator said I had $9 that I could redeem for more points or money. When I asked to “cash out,” I was told I had to ask them to “redeem my points.”
When I walked into Lucky Lounge, I had $10. I walked out with $9.
“I lost a dollar,” I said to the two cashiers.
“No,” one answered. “You won $9.”
I was reminded that I had paid for music downloads and was leaving with $9 in cash and $10 in songs that I could claim and listen to at any time. Lucky7downloads.com has more than 22,000 songs in its catalog from which to choose, most from Texas artists of all genres.