Texas House Committee Considers Poker Rooms Legislation

Currently 56 poker clubs operate in Texas without regulation. But a House committee is considering bills that would let local officials approve or ban the clubs, and change state gambling law to include poker clubs under the definition of private games.

Texas House Committee Considers Poker Rooms Legislation

The Texas House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures recently held a hearing on two bills regarding poker rooms that are proliferating statewide, bypassing anti-gambling laws.

The first bill, HB1601, would give local city or county governments the authority to approve or ban the poker clubs. However, under this scenario, when new officials are elected, they could change the law.

The second bill, HB2345, would change state gambling law to include poker clubs under the definition of private games. The measure also would change language about the game’s “economic benefit,” meaning a club could not earn revenue from the game itself but instead through fees, food and beverages and more.

Daniel Kebort, founder of the Post Oak Poker Club in Houston, said the legislation didn’t go far enough. Kebort told the committee, “We’re going to have 254 definitions of the act. 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.”

Currently, according to PokerAtlas, 56 poker rooms are operating throughout Texas. There have been bumps along the way, most notably in 2019 when Kebort’s Post Oak Poker Club and the Prime Social Poker Club were raided by police and law enforcement. The owners and managers of the two clubs were taken into custody and charged with violating state gambling laws.

However, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg dropped all the charges when it was revealed someone on Ogg’s staff previously worked with the poker rooms to help them get regulated. In 2020, the individuals charged filed a wrongful prosecution suit against Ogg. But she has been re-elected and holds her position until 2024.

No vote was taken on the two bills and they remain in committee.

Meanwhile, two bills that would permit casinos and sports betting were approved in the House State Affairs Committee and moved to the House Committee on Calendars. That’s farther than any sports betting and casino bills have ever advanced. But even if the bills pass the House, they would face strong opposition in the Senate.

In fact, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick recently said on a radio appearance with KXAN, “There’s no Senate support I can see. There wasn’t when the session began and there’s not now with the numbers to pass a bill.”

Dr. Rob Tennant, a professor at Texas A&M University, said a casino in Central Texas would bring new jobs, raise salaries and attract visitors to the area, which is especially beneficial to rural communities.

He told KWTX, “If a casino comes to an area that doesn’t have them and there aren’t casinos in adjoining counties, the realization is more substantial, and, in more rural situations, what it does is it tends to create a significant number of new jobs. It tends to increase salaries, wages in those communities and it can bring people in from the surrounding communities to those venues.”

However, he warned, “If they get casinos, it’s likely to cannibalize the business, meaning that if they used to gamble on horses, dogs or lotteries and they now have casinos, it’s more going to be a shift in gambling dollars versus a creation of new gambling dollars. That’s frequently the case, so it’s not quite as clear.”

Tennant recommended Central Texas consider the pros and cons of casino gambling. “I would always make sure to think about the net positives that could occur, like new jobs, potentially higher wages, more tourism dollars,” he told KWTX. “But there are side effects, too. There’s about 1 percent to 2 percent of the population that tends to have addiction problems when it becomes facilitated, and that creates other situations in the community.”