Social Poker Bill Introduced in Texas

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You would think that the state that lends its name to Texas Hold’em, the most popular poker variation going, would be extremely poker-friendly. Alas, it is not. Good luck finding a game. The only casino in the state is the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino, located on the Rio Grande about a two and a half hour drive southwest of San Antonio. Texas residents who want to gamble have to drive to neighboring states New Mexico, Louisiana, and Oklahoma to do so legally.

Texas State Representative Ryan Guillen is trying to change that a bit. At the end of February, Rep. Guillen filed House Bill 2098, a bill which would legalize and regulate social poker rooms around the state. The legislation is just in its infancy, having been referred to the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee on Tuesday.

HB 2098 is fairly simple. It does not authorize full-fledged casinos to start being built all over Texas, but rather legalizes what are essentially poker clubs. A legal “social poker establishment” would have to meet three qualifications:

1.    Only allow people to play poker who are members of the club.
2.    Winnings from poker are the only financial benefits people receive as patrons of the club.
3.    Nobody has any special advantage over anyone else, aside from their skill at poker or the luck involved with the turn of a card.

The bill also defines a “social poker establishment” as a business that serves food and beverage as well as providing poker games, though it does not explicitly say that food and beverage absolutely must be made available.

Additionally, the HB 2098 would amend the Texas penal code to allow for possession, ownership, manufacture, or transfer of poker equipment as long as it is only for shipping it to a licensed “social poker establishment.”

Should HB 2098 make it all the way through the House and the Senate, it would take effect on September 1st. If both houses approve it by at least a two-thirds vote, though, it will take effect immediately.

This is the second poker bill in Texas to be introduced in the last three months, following HB 292, which was introduced in December. HB 292 would legalize and regulate poker under the auspices of the Texas Lottery Commission. Unlike legislation in other states, though, HB 292 does not touch online poker. Entities that would be eligible to apply for poker licenses are bingo and pari-mutuel licensees as well as federally recognized Native American tribes.

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