It has been a major question for nearly a decade in the state of Texas. The proliferation of poker “clubs” – which circumvent the state’s archaic anti-gambling laws – has simultaneously flourished while local law enforcement tries to curb their growth. A hearing held on Wednesday examined two bills that would attempt to put some sort of rules on these Texas poker rooms and perhaps ensure their survival.
House Committee Hears Discussion, No Decisions
The Texas House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures was the place to be on Wednesday as the two bills came up for discussion. Advocates on both sides took to the dais to state their cases, with legislators listening to the statements of those who are intricately involved in the situation. In the end, there were no votes taken on the subject and the bills remained in committee, although some lawmakers spoke out against the Texas poker rooms.
The first bill under review by the panel, HB1601, would have given the ability for local lawmakers to impose their own regulations regarding poker clubs. The positive of this situation is that each location, be it a city or county, could mandate (or ban) poker clubs within its borders. The downside is that, when new leadership is elected, these mandates could change with the whims of the incoming administrations.
The second bill, HB2345, would look to update the state’s gaming laws to include poker clubs under private game definitions. This bill would also look to adjust language regarding the “economic benefit” of the game. This change would mean that the business could not earn revenues from the game itself (take a rake), but it would make it legal to earn revenues through fees, food and beverages, and other methods.
A surprising voice against both measures was one of the founders of the Texas poker club industry. Daniel Kebort, who founded the Post Oak Poker Club in Houston, stated that the legislation didn’t go far enough in setting regulations for the industry. “We’re going to have 254 definitions of the act,” Kebort testified before the committee, according to SBCAmericas. “They don’t give any guidance…they don’t have any infrastructure to enforce…how does (law enforcement) prosecute any crimes? The only way these clubs can continue to exist…is through regulation of the state across the state.”
Poker Club Industry Continues to Thrive in Texas
While the Texas legislature hems and haws over the decision, the poker club industry in Texas continues to thrive. According to PokerAtlas, there are 56 rooms throughout the Lone Star State, with many in major cities. Austin has long been a home to these rooms, as have Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and several others. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for these operations, however.
One of the most notable attacks against the poker club concept came in Houston and Kebort was a part of that case. In 2019, Kebort’s Post Oak Poker Club and a competitor in the city, the Prime Social Poker Club, were raided by police and law enforcement. The ownership and management of these two Texas poker rooms were taken into custody and charged with various violations of Texas’ gambling laws.
Shortly after the raids, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg had to withdraw the charges against all involved. Because of prosecutorial malfeasance in the case – a member of Ogg’s staff had worked with the poker rooms to attempt to get them regulated previously – Ogg was forced to withdraw the charges against everyone in the case. In 2020, those who were charged filed a wrongful prosecution suit against Ogg, but Ogg continues to be reelected to her position; she currently remains as the DA until 2024.
Whether the new legislation in the Texas House has any chance of passage in the state is a serious question mark. The legislature has become a rubber stamp for what Republican Governor Greg Abbott wants to do, which is to attack “culture war” issues rather than serious legislation for the people. Meanwhile, the Texas poker club industry continues to move forward, although even they would like some regulation on what they do.