Texas Needs to Clarify Poker Laws
Texas is one of the few states in America that does not permit poker rooms, clubs, or games with any type of money involved. Despite the global popularity of Texas Hold’em, the state itself has yet to consider any true poker legalization measures.
Only one casino operates in Texas, and the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino is the only one of three original tribal casinos that has staved off any legal challenges based on its sovereign status under the US Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. The only other gambling that is legal in the state is pari-mutuel wagering and the lottery. No poker bills have ever been seriously considered by the state legislature despite numerous attempts.
When Gray Areas Become Grayer
For many years, the Texas law prohibiting gambling relied on the definition of games of skill and chance or whether there was a chance that people could lose something of value. However, that left much up to interpretation, which was a gray area for law enforcement as well as the courts.
Finally, the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion with regard to poker. As long as participants do not risk money or anything of value to win any prize, the game would be considered legal. The problem with that definition is that it then negates most aspects of a poker game or tournament, as buy-ins and rake both have value.
Some Texans decided to approach this in a unique way. They opened private clubs and charged fees for entrance or membership. Some proprietors charged an hourly fee to be in the building where poker games were being held, and others tried a flat daily or weekly fee. Prizes for poker tournaments were then awarded in cash.
When a Loophole is Not a Loophole
The citizens of Texas who are opposed to most types of gambling have been complaining to city councils, who take their concerns to law enforcement. They worry about criminal elements, late-night shenanigans, and gambling addictions, and they are putting pressure on the powers-that-be to shut down any and all poker games, including those held in the social clubs.
And it seems to be working.
I give the "legal poker in Texas" fad about a year before it gets shut down.
— J.C. Reid (@jcreidtx) August 9, 2017
According to a recent report from the Dallas News, poker clubs are being threatened and shut down by police but not given full or clear explanations for the harsh actions. Card clubs in Dallas and Plano, in particular, have been closed in recent weeks due to legal questions for which there seem to be no answers.
One example given was CJ’s Card Club in Dallas, which was searched by the Dallas Police Department with a search warrant on a tip that a gambling place was being operated. The investigation is ongoing, no details have been given, but the club was threatened enough that it closed and deleted its social media presence and website.
Another example was Poker Rooms of Texas in Plano, which closed after the police launched an investigation in its legality. The website merely states that “operational issues” are being addressed with local authorities.
In both cases, the reporter was unable to speak with any club owners or garner any further information from law enforcement officials.
Another case profiled by the Dallas News was the Big Texas Poker Club that opened in August in Plano after the owners did a great deal of research to ensure they abided by the law. Even though they received a permit and opened for business, members received “threatening” letters from police about violations of the state’s gambling law. The owners were coerced into closing the club three weeks later. But in an attempt to reopen while working with lawyers, they claim the police won’t offer any advice on the legality of what they want to do.
No Talk, Only Action
As the Big Texas Poker Club situation exemplifies, no one seems to be able to garner any clear guidance from law enforcement, and attorneys are only able to interpret the law as best they can. Once the clubs open, the police then step in to issue vague warnings or actually raid the clubs.
Poker players and those who want to offer games are left with little direction or recourse.
Texas laws regarding poker, as currently written, are vague. The namesake of the most popular card game in the United States – and much of the world – continues to skirt the issue but prosecute anyone who tries to work within the law to offer games.