State v. $1,760 in U.S. Currency (Per Curiam)

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Justia Opinion Summary

The State seized thirty-seven gaming machines called "eight-liners" after the sheriff's department executed a warrant to search a game room owned by Sammy Barnes. The warrant was obtained after an investigation, which yielded information that the eight-liners were awarding players tickets they could redeem for future play on another day, referred to as non-immediate rights of replay. Barnes challenged the seizure, contending that his eight-liners were statutorily excluded from the definition of "gambling device" because the contrivances rewarded players "exclusively with noncash merchandise, prizes, toys, or novelties." The trial court ordered the eight-liners forfeited to the State. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the eight-liners fell within the exclusion to the definition of "gambling devices" because the non-immediate rights of replay could be considered "novelties" under the exclusion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that non-immediate rights of replay are not novelties, and therefore, the eight-liners did not fall within the exclusion because the distributed tickets were not redeemable exclusively for noncash merchandise, prizes, toys, or novelties.

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IN THE SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS 444444444444 NO . 12-0718 444444444444 STATE OF TEXAS, PETITIONER, v. $1,760.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, 37 8 LINER MACHINES, RESPONDENT 4444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444 ON PETITION FOR REVIEW FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND DISTRICT OF TEXAS 4444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444 PER CURIAM This is a civil forfeiture case involving the seizure of thirty-seven gaming machines, commonly known as eight-liners, by the State of Texas after the Tarrant County Sheriff s Department obtained and executed a warrant to search the Magic Games Game Room owned by Sammy Dean Barnes. The Texas Penal Code excludes from the definition of gambling device certain contrivances that reward players exclusively with noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items. TEX. PENAL CODE § 47.01(4)(B). Barnes challenges the seizure, arguing that his eight-liners fell within the statutory exclusion. The State contends that Barnes s eight-liners cannot fall within that exclusion because the eight-liners awarded tickets that could be redeemed for non-immediate rights of replay, which the State argues is an intangible reward precluding application of the statutory exclusion. We agree with the State. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals judgment and reinstate the trial court s judgment. The Tarrant County Sheriff s Department obtained a search warrant for Magic Games Game Room after an investigation yielded information that the eight-liners were awarding players tickets that they could redeem for future play on another day referred to as non-immediate rights of replay. Upon execution of the search warrant, the Sheriff s Department seized thirty-seven eight-liners and $1,760 in cash from an automated teller machine (ATM) on the premises.1 Following the seizure, the State initiated forfeiture proceedings under article 18.18 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure in the justice court, which ultimately ordered forfeiture of the eight-liners. See TEX . CODE CRIM . PROC. art. 18.18. Barnes appealed to the county court at law for a trial de novo. At trial, Barnes testified that the eight-liners accepted cash, which the machine converted into points that were used for play. When a player redeemed points from an eight-liner upon completion of play, the eight-liner dispensed a ticket for every five hundred points won. Players could use the tickets to either (1) redeem store merchandise that did not exceed a wholesale value of $5, or (2) receive credits to replay another machine, which were implemented electronically by an attendant from a central location without having to convert the tickets back into cash. Barnes s establishment allowed players to return at a later date to redeem the tickets for replays on the eightliners. It is undisputed that the tickets had no cash value and were never exchanged for cash for replay. 1 Because Barnes does not claim ownership of the cash seized from the ATM, it is not at issue in this appeal. 2 After a trial de novo, the county court ordered the eight-liners forfeited to the State. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the eight-liners fell within the exclusion to the definition of gambling device in section 47.01(4)(B) of the Penal Code because non-immediate rights of replay could be considered novelties under the exclusion, which the court of appeals defined as a new event. 372 S.W.3d 277, 285 86. The State petitioned this Court for review, arguing that the court of appeals erred by construing the term novelties to mean a new event rather than small, tangible goods similar in form to noncash merchandise prizes and toys, which are the two terms that precede novelties in section 47.01(4)(B). See TEX . PENAL CODE § 47.01(4)(B). The State avers that, under its proposed construction of novelties, a reward of a non-immediate right of replay prevents the statutory exclusion from applying to Barnes s eight-liners. We agree. The issue is one of statutory construction, which we review de novo. Tex. Lottery Comm n v. First State Bank of DeQueen, 325 S.W.3d 628, 635 (Tex. 2010). Our primary objective when interpreting a statute is to give effect to the Legislature s intent. Molinet v. Kimbrell, 356 S.W.3d 407, 411 (Tex. 2011). Legislative intent is best expressed by the plain meaning of the text unless the plain meaning leads to absurd results or a different meaning is supplied by legislative definition or is apparent from the context. Tex. Lottery Comm n, 325 S.W.3d at 635. The Penal Code defines gambling device as: any electronic, electromechanical, or mechanical contrivance not excluded under Paragraph (B) that for a consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain anything of value, the award of which is determined solely or partially by chance, even though accompanied by some skill, whether or not the prize is automatically paid by the contrivance. 3 TEX . PENAL CODE § 47.01(4). The Penal Code broadly defines things of value as any benefit but specifically excludes an unrecorded and immediate right of replay not exchangeable for value. Id. § 47.01(9) (emphasis added). The parties do not dispute that the eight-liners fall within the Penal Code s general definition of gambling device. The eight-liners awarded players tickets that were redeemable for either noncash store merchandise or non-immediate rights of replay both clearly benefits and thus things of value under the statute. See id. Instead, the dispositive issue in this case requires construction of the exclusion under section 47.01(4)(B), which provides that the term gambling device does not include: any electronic, electromechanical, or mechanical contrivance designed, made, and adapted solely for bona fide amusement purposes if the contrivance rewards the player exclusively with noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items, that have a wholesale value available from a single play of the game or device of not more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once or $5, whichever is less. Id. § 47.01(4)(B). As we noted in Hardy v. State, 102 S.W.3d 123 (Tex. 2003), the exclusion in section 47.01(4)(B) applies only if the eight-liners reward players exclusively with noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items. Id. at 131 (quoting TEX . PENAL CODE § 47.01(4)(B)). The pertinent facts surrounding the nature of the reward are undisputed in this case. The eight-liners issued tickets (i.e., representations of value ) that could be redeemed for either store merchandise or non-immediate rights of replay. The critical inquiry is whether non-immediate rights of replay qualify as noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties. TEX . PENAL CODE § 47.01(4)(B). 4 In Hardy, we held that eight-liners that awarded players tickets that were exchangeable for either gift certificates redeemable at local retailers or cash to play other machines did not fall within the exclusion in section 47.01(4)(B). Hardy, 102 S.W.3d at 131 33. We concluded that gift certificates redeemable at local retailers did not qualify as a noncash merchandise prize, toy, or novelty item because the gift certificates operated the same as legal tender. Id. at 132. For similar reasons, we held that eight-liners that dispense tickets redeemable for cash, even when the cash can be used only for additional play, do not meet the exclusion. Id. We reasoned that an award of cash, regardless of its subsequent use, precludes application of the statutory exclusion because the tickets were no longer redeemable exclusively for noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties. Id. We left open the possibility, however, that additional play could be accomplished by some other method that did not violate section 47.01(4). Id. In this case, we recognize that awards of additional play were accomplished electronically rather than through a cash conversion like in Hardy. Nevertheless, we apply the same analysis under section 47.01(4)(B): Is a non-immediate right of replay a noncash merchandise prize, toy, or novelty item? While novelty can be defined as a new event, as the court of appeals noted, 372 S.W.3d at 285, we conclude that the context of section 47.01(4) indicates that the Legislature intended a meaning of novelty consistent with the other terms of the statute. Thus, while the method of awarding additional play in this case differs from that in Hardy, the result remains the same. The Penal Code does not define novelties. Undefined terms in a statute are typically given their ordinary meaning. TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. v. Combs, 340 S.W.3d 432, 439 (Tex. 2011). However, we will not give an undefined term a meaning that is out of harmony or inconsistent with 5 other terms in the statute. In re Hall, 286 S.W.3d 925, 929 (Tex. 2009); see also Fiess v. State Farm Lloyds, 202 S.W.3d 744, 750 51 n.29 (Tex. 2006) (applying the traditional canon of construction noscitur a sociis or it is known by its associates to construe the last term within a series). [I]f a different, more limited, or precise definition is apparent from the term s use in the context of the statute, we apply that meaning. Hall, 286 S.W.3d at 929. Therefore, when an undefined term has multiple common meanings, the definition most consistent within the context of the statute s scheme applies. See id. (applying the dictionary s second definition of detention as the term is used in the Juvenile Justice Code); see also Combs, 340 S.W.3d at 441 ( It is a fundamental principle of statutory construction and indeed of language itself that words meanings cannot be determined in isolation but must be drawn from the context in which they are used. ). In addition to the definition of novelty as a new event, many dictionaries define novelty as a small manufactured article, object, or toy. See, e.g., AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLEGE DICTIONARY 934 (3d. ed. 2000) (defining novelty as a small mass-produced article, such as a toy or trinket. ). For instance, the third definition in Webster s Third New International Dictionary the same dictionary the court of appeals relied on defines novelty as a small manufactured article intended mainly for decoration or adornment and marked by an unusual or novel design. WEBSTER S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY 1546 (2002). The context of section 47.01(4) indicates that the Legislature intended novelty to mean other types of tangible articles similar to noncash merchandise prizes and toys not a new event as the court of appeals defined the term. Under this definition, we hold that non-immediate rights of replay are not novelties. 6 Therefore, we hold that Barnes s eight-liners do not fall within the exclusion in section 47.01(4)(B) because the distributed tickets were not redeemable exclusively for noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties. See TEX . PENAL CODE § 47.01(4)(B). The court of appeals erred when it held otherwise. Accordingly, we grant the State s petition for review, and without hearing oral argument, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstate the judgment of the county court at law. See TEX . R. APP . P. 59.1. OPINION DELIVERED: June 28, 2013 7