Anti-poker activists in Texas again seek opinion from AG Paxton on legality of clubs

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: January 11, 2024 12:04 pm EST

The social-poker club system in Texas will have to weather another attack from anti-gambling forces, who have again petitioned the office of the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, on the legality of such clubs.

According to a report at BaptistStandard.com, chair of the opinion committee in the Texas Attorney General’s office, Austin Kinghorn, has promised to provide such an opinion by June 12, 2024. Kinghorn issued the promise in response to a request from Texas State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, about “whether a gambling establishment that charges a membership or entrance fee but does not take a percentage of the value gambled violates the gambling provisions in the Penal Code.”

Earlier request about clubs’ legality made in 2018

It’s the second time that such a request regarding an opinion on social-poker clubs’ legality in Texas has been submitted to Paxton’s office. In 2018, a similar request came from State Rep. Genie Morrison, R-Victoria. AG Paxton’s office declined to offer an opinion at that time, citing ongoing litigation that could have resulted in a formal ruling on the topic, rendering an opinion from his office as moot.

That earlier case featured a lawsuit brought by Austin Card Room, LLC against the San Antonio Card House. Austin Card House, LLC sought an injunction against the San Antonio club for not clearly operating in a way that would keep from violating the state’s statutes governing illegal gambling.

The lawsuit was put on hold later in 2018 as momentum in Texas gathered behind multiple legislative bills that were designed to clarify, one way or the other, the legal status of the social-poker clubs. But those bills foundered as well, leaving the grey-area status quo in place, and active litigation has never resumed in the 2018 poker-club case.

Anti-gambling groups joining forces

According to baptiststandard.com, the promise that Creighton received from Paxton’s office was quickly forwarded to several groups known for their strident opposition to gambling in general, including Texans Against Gambling, the state’s wing of anti-gambling lobbying group Stop Predatory Gambling.

Other groups reported as receiving copies of Kinghorn’s promise to Creighton include Catholic Charities and the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Kinghorn’s letter invites input by by January 29 from anyone “with special interest or expertise in the subject matter,” though that invitation has been extended only to groups likely to be stridently against Texas’s social-poker industry.

That the letter comes from an official in AG Paxton’s office rather than Paxton himself is noteworthy as well. Paxton has been besieged by calls to resign over charges he’s been facing since 2011 regarding his role in soliciting funds for a tech startup. Paxton has sought to have that case thrown out for many years, but the state’s investigation into the matter led to the Texas legislature attempting to impeach Paxton (but narrowly failing) last year. Nonetheless, Paxton’s long-delayed trial may finally take place in 2024.

Regardless of whom sits in the AG office, however, any opinion on social-poker clubs’ legality in Texas – negative or positive – remains just an opinion until tested in a court case. Still, anti-poker officials at the city and county levels throughout the state could arm themselves with the opinion and heighten their efforts to shutter clubs in their jurisdictions.