Texas Poker Rooms Face New Legal Challenge

Written By Nicholaus Garcia on December 5, 2022
A new House bill may refine where legal Texas poker can be played

A new gambling bill filed by Houston Democrat Rep. Gene Wu aims to crack down on Texas poker rooms. 

Filed in early November, House Bill 732 would replace the term “private place” with “private residence.” In doing so, HB 732 would strip poker rooms in Texas of any legal defenses. 

New poker bill aims to redefine legal playing places

Language in Wu’s bill would define a private residence as:

“(It’s) a dwelling to which the public does not have access, and excludes, among other places, streets, highways, restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, schools, hospitals, and the common areas of apartments houses, hotels, motels, office, transportation facilities and shops.”

Opponents of poker rooms have a long-standing opinion that the current statute was never meant to apply to businesses. In an interview with the Dallas Observer, Wu said the bill would include additional language.

House Rep.Gene Wu did not give specifics but said the bill would give counties the authority to decide if they want poker rooms. Giving counties the right to make their own decisions is a good idea.

Especially knowing that many Texans are in favor of more legal gambling options. Wu says: “If a business is in a county and the county just says ‘All we want to do is take your picture, give you a license and charge you $10, so be it.

But I think the important part of that is if there’s a way for counties to say ‘No. You guys are consistently bad operators. You’re a consistent bad actor. We’ve had so many complaints.

We’ve had so many drug busts and so many prostitution busts at your operation. We need some way of shutting you down.’ And right now, there’s basically no way of shutting them down.”

House Bill 732, potential threat to Texas poker rooms

Currently, Texas poker operates in a gray area. However, there is a loophole in the state’s penal code (Chapter 47) which permits “private poker clubs” to operate. 

These card rooms must meet specific criteria to operate in the state.

  • Gaming must happen in a private place
  • All participants must have an equal chance of winning
  • The club cannot generate any money from gambling, meaning it takes no house rake

Texas poker rooms generate revenue by operating as private clubs and charging membership fees. It’s estimated there are at least 61 poker rooms throughout Texas.

At least 19 poker rooms can be found in the Houston area alone.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Nicholaus Garcia

Nick Garcia is a senior reporter for PlayUSA. Garcia provides analysis and in-depth coverage of the gambling industry with a key focus on online casinos, sports betting and financial markets. Garcia has been covering the US gambling market since 2017. He attended Texas Tech University as an undergrad and received a Master of Arts in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago.

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