In what was a stunning afternoon of activity in and around the city of Houston, several top “card clubs” – basically poker rooms that were skirting the laws of the state – were raided by local law enforcement. As a result of the raids, other card clubs in the area shut down out of an abundance of concern and the future of Texas card clubs has been called into question.
Afternoon Raids Lead to Charges
On Wednesday afternoon, Prime Social Poker Club was raided by law enforcement officials of the city of Houston. The club had been advertising a poker tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of $150,000 which, according to the Facebook page Free to Compete – Texas, was supposed to have started that same day and could have been the reason for the raid. Soon after this news came down, further information was passed along by Free to Compete that one of the other top rooms in the Houston area, the Post Oak Poker Club, had also been the subject of a raid by authorities.
Free to Compete kept a running commentary on Facebook throughout the afternoon on their page, with updates that were in real time and were sometimes mistaken. Early in the situation, Free to Compete stated that players who were in Prime Social Poker Club were allowed to leave with their chips and they were photographed but not arrested. A later update, however, indicated that the prior report of players being able to keep their chips might have been mistaken, that the players were being considered as witnesses (hence the photos) and that the general manager of the club was in handcuffs.
The raids on Prime Social Poker Club and Post Oak Poker Club sent several other rooms into protection mode. Mint Poker was rumored to have been raided, but that was shot down by late in the afternoon on Wednesday although the club closed for the day “out of an abundance of caution.” Late Wednesday evening, however, Mint Poker issued a statement that was pulled from Facebook that they would “temporarily suspending member services while (the Mint Poker legal team) investigates the closing of two clubs in Houston.”
Official Statements from Law Enforcement
Wednesday afternoon, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg issued a statement regarding the raiding of Prime Social Poker Club and Post Oak Poker Club. “Poker rooms are illegal in the State of Texas,” Ogg announced in the statement. “We are changing the paradigm regarding illegal gambling by moving up the criminal chain and pursuing felony money laundering and engaging in organized crime charges against owners and operators. Players are not being targeted.”
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo added his two cents in the press release. “We can’t allow illegal gambling to go on,” Acevedo said. “It drives organized crime and fuels other criminal activity. According to reports, nine people involved in the ownership of the clubs were arrested on money laundering charges and their respective bank accounts were seized. They are:
Post Oak Poker Club
William Heuer III
Prime Social Poker Room
The five men charged from Post Oak were all charged as owners of the club. Maddox was charged as the owner of Prime Social, with Switzer named as the comptroller, Pollack as the general manager and Farshid as the assistant general manager.
What IS the Law in Texas?
Some have said that it isn’t against the law to play poker in Texas and that’s true – it’s not ILLEGAL anywhere to “play” poker. Once money is used in the game, however, laws on gambling enter the picture. One of the key laws is that an establishment can’t take a rake or fee from the game, which therefore makes it against the law.
In Texas, many industrious entrepreneurs thought they had found a way to circumvent this law. According to the interpretations of many attorneys, these clubs were legal because of the following reasons:
1.The clubs were “members only” and private.
2. The clubs didn’t take a rake from any hands played on the grounds.
3. The members of the club are playing against each other and not against the house, with each player having the same chance at winning and losing.
So how do the businesses make any money, plenty of people have asked. In addition to their membership fees, these clubs would also sell food on the premises (alcohol is reportedly banned from such clubs) to make some additional cash. The clubs were looked at as a safer alternative than the legendary underground games in Texas, although a noted online poker player was shot and robbed at a poker club in Austin just last year.
And What is the Future?
Currently the nine people charged in the Houston cases are going to be tried for the money laundering charges, not for any actions they took as to running a poker room. But there is plenty of attention being drawn to the subject. In the Texas Legislature, a bill has been filed by Democrat Ryan Guillen (Rio Grande City) that would license and regulate the “social gaming establishments.” Right now, that bill is stalled in committee in the Texas House of Representatives and its future is unknown.
Whether the raids were truly what they were stated – a raid against money laundering – or something more sinister, other poker rooms must be on alert. Free to Compete has announced a petition drive to bring a grassroots effort together to combat the threats. As of yet, other organizations such as the Poker Alliance (which used to be their forte – the protection of poker players and their rights to play) haven’t yet spoken up on the issue, so it may be a fight that Texans will have to wage on their own.