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County attorneys go after gambling dens

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BAYTOWN, Texas -

In 1984, William Simpson opened Christmas Treasures off the East Freeway in Baytown.

The store specialized in Christmas decorations all year long.

"We always had a Christmas in July sale we sold a lot of outdoor ornaments," Simpson said.  "I made a lot of the outdoor decorations myself."

He sold the business in 2004, but little did he know it would become a den of illegal gambling, the Harris County Attorney's Office said.

Investigators said the business was also the scene of a murder in August. They said it was tied directly to the gambling operation.

"I was a little sad and shocked and I hate to see something like that happen," Simpson said.

Crime at illegal game rooms around Harris County is nothing new, County Attorney Vince Ryan said.

"We're finding that these places are popping up everywhere because of all the cash inside and that's attracting crime to happen," Assistant County Attorney Melissa Spinks said.

That's why attorneys slapped the current building owner with a lawsuit.  It's where the former gambling house was located.  The tenant/renter who allegedly ran the shop has moved out and the building is up for sale.

But the business off of the East Freeway is not the first and will not be the last.  FOX 26 News has learned the county attorney is now going after three more gambling operations with civil action this week.  They're hoping to put them out of business as well.

"We want to send a message that we're going to file a lawsuit and we want it to stop," Spinks said.

Investigators have learned going after game rooms civilly works much better than raiding gambling operations.  Why?  The almighty dollar.

"The civil lawsuit will get them in the pocketbook and that will definitely get the attention of the owner," Spinks said.

That's why Simpson is not too concerned about what happens next door at the Christmas shop he once owned.

The building that became a game room is no longer his property which means it doesn't affect his pockets on the East Freeway.

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