A proposed measure to redefine a confusing Texas poker law successfully passed one House committee vote on Wednesday. But there are some tough obstacles on the horizon.
Texas Card House owner Ryan Crow told PokerNews via a phone conversation that the House Licensing Committee voted 8-2 in favor of House Bill 2345, which is intended to clear up some confusion within the wording of Texas Penal Code 47.04.
As it stands, the law states gambling cannot legally occur in a private place, no person can receive any economic benefit other than personal winnings, and the risks of losing or winning must be the same for all involved.
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There is no debate on one issue, and that is rake. Collecting rake out of a cash game pot is illegal in Texas. The debate stems from the interpretation of the first two aspects of the aforementioned penal code. And this is where Crow, along with the owners of three competitors — The Lodge Card Club (Austin), Champions Club (Houston), and San Antonio Card House (San Antonio) — are teaming together to reword the law altogether.
With the successful vote on Wednesday, the bill will soon find its way to the House Calendars Committee where Crow acknowledges will be a difficult battle.
“A lot of bills go to die in Calendars,” Crow said.
The date of the vote hasn’t yet been determined but lobbyists in favor of HB 2345 are already pitching their arguments to the committee and sending out feelers to get an idea of how they’ll vote. Crow explained that the current legislative session ends on May 29 and if this bill doesn’t get through the House, it will die and won’t see the light of day for at least two years.
There is also a poker companion bill — SB 1681 — in the Texas Senate sponsored by Rep. Jose Menendez (D). Crow said he’s unsure of the odds of that one passing as well but his team is working hard to pass through two bills simultaneously.
Learn more about poker in Texas here!
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In Texas, gambling is illegal. So, how do poker rooms open all across the state in dozens of cities? They use a loophole in Texas Penal Code 47.04 and operate as membership clubs as opposed to collecting rake. Well, at least the ones attempting to follow the laws do.
Card rooms such as Texas Card House or The Lodge Card Club, co-owned by Doug Polk, Andrew Neeme, and Brad Owen, charge membership and seat fees instead of taking rake out of pots. But there are many lawmakers around the Lone Star State who still believe that business model is illegal.
It all depends on one’s interpretation of “private place” and “economic benefit.” If SB 1681 were to pass, a subdivision would be added to Texas Penal Code Chapter 47 that would read: “‘Economic benefit’ means direct winnings from a game of skill or luck. The term does not include a benefit received before a game commences or after payment of the direct winnings from the game.”
As for the “private place’ term, that would be redefined in subdivision 8 and the proposed measure would be amended to read:
“‘Private place” means a place to which the public does not have access without a valid membership, special invitation, or prior grant of permission[,] and excludes, among other places, streets, highways, restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, schools, hospitals, and the common areas of apartment houses, hotels, motels, office buildings, transportation facilities, and shops.”
Should the bill one day become law, there would no longer be any debate as to the legality of the poker rooms, so long as they are following the rules. But there’s an uphill battle ahead to get to that point.
Crow encourages all poker rooms in Texas to join in along with the Texans for Hold’em lobbying group he helped create to preserve and protect the poker clubs across the state. He also pleads for poker players in Texas to stand up for their rights to play poker.