East-central Texas poker club shuttered by local authorities over illegal-gambling allegations

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: March 14, 2022 10:46 PDT

The Top Shelf Poker Room, a social poker club in the city of Flint, Texas, near Tyler, has been ordered to close by local authorities who allege the room is in violation of Texas's gambling laws.

Top Shelf Poker was raided by Smith County sheriff's deputies at approximately 11:45 pm on Thursday nights, following several months of investigative work, including officers going undercover and playing in the room. During the raid, the officers confiscated computer equipment, gaming equipment, business ledgers, and an unspecified amount of cash, including from players who were in attendance.

The Smith County Sheriff's Office also issued the order to the club to cease operations. Top Shelf Poker Room faces two different gambling-related charges. According to local reports, the room's owners are alleged to be gambling as well as promoting gambling, a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties if found guilty on that charge include "up to one year in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000, or up to two years community supervision (probation), or three years with an extension."

The second charge is more serious, a count of "Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity." That felony charge can carry a sentence of between six months and two years and include a fine of up to 10,000.

As with all social poker clubs in Texas, Top Shelf Poker Room operates by not charging rake directly, as forbidden by the state's laws. Instead, the club sells access memberships ranging from $10 daily to $200 for a full year. The club has been in operation for more than five years and bills itself as the oldest poker club in east Texas.

Smith County Sheriff Smith pushes law-and-order stance

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith issued a statement on Friday declaring that Top Shelf's activities had generated “numerous complaints regarding what was believed to be illegal gambling,” The investigators, including undercover players, had "developed probable cause to believe illegal gambling was taken place at the Top Shelf Poker Room."

Smith added, “Smith County is a Law and Order County and as long as gambling of this nature is deemed to be illegal by the Texas Penal Code, these activities will not take root and grow in Smith County, period.”

Meanwhile, Top Shelf Poker's operators vowed to fight the charges. The club's Facebook page includes multiple posts on the topic, while describing itself as a "legal, tax-paying business." The club has also launched a petition drive and a GoFundMe page to support its planned legal defense.