City Ordinance Could Smooth Path For Dallas Poker Clubs

Written By Derek Helling on February 14, 2023
lawsuit dallas poker clubs categorization private

Dallas poker clubs face a precarious situation in Texas right now. However, the city is going out of its way to ensure it can operate legally as far as municipal authorities are concerned. At the same time, that offers no guarantee in terms of any actions the state might take in the future.

Dallas’ city council wants to grant the members-only clubs a special land-use consideration that would make their operations expressly legal. That would only apply within the city limits, however, and not impact their standing with Texas law.

Dallas poker clubs see favorable development

Late last month, the Dallas City Council moved to direct its staff to draft language for a special land-use categorization specifically for the poker clubs. They operate in somewhat of a legal grey area.

Texas gambling law bans commercial poker games with real-money buy-ins and cash prizes except for very specific situations. Regardless, over 50 card rooms operate every day across the state. Many of those are in Dallas. They comply with the law by being private instead of open to the public.

The clubs make money by charging membership fees instead of taking a percentage of pots from games. In states with legal poker rooms, that percentage is called the casinos’ “rake.”

The legal argument is that the law doesn’t concern what the members of these private clubs do during their time together. If they want to play some poker and put some friendly bets on the games, that’s their prerogative.

However, that argument has only gone so far. In February 2022, the City of Dallas revoked an occupancy certificate for one such card room. The reason behind the move was that the city did not consider the Texas Card House to be a private place.

The Texas Card House brought suit against the city, which it lost. The Texas Card House has appealed the ruling, however. Until the appeal is decided, it can continue operating. This new ordinance might allow both parties to circumvent that dispute altogether, though.

How the special land-use consideration could change things

Once the new land-use categorization is finalized, poker clubs in Dallas would essentially have two choices; accept the terms of that categorization or hope lawsuits work in their favor. As the language of the new ordinance is still in process, it’s unclear what alterations if any the card rooms might have to make to be eligible for the categorization.

The aim of the new ordinance will likely be allowing the clubs to qualify as private places while maintaining their business models to the greatest extent possible. The state legislature in Austin might have something to say on the matter yet, though.

Late last year, state Rep. Gene Wu pre-filed a bill that would clarify the definition of a private place in this context in Texas. If it becomes law, it could pose a threat to some poker rooms. That would be the case even in Dallas as state law supersedes city ordinances.

In the absence of such guidance from the state, Dallas is seeking a resolution. It could be only a temporary fix, though.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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