The Texas state legislature will consider a new bill that if passed would likely end the era of “social poker” clubs in the Longhorn State. House Bill 732, introduced by State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), would ban such clubs by clarifying language in Texas’s existing gambling codes to close the loophole under which the state’s dozens of poker clubs currently operate.
By amending the word “place” to either “house” or “dwelling” in several instances throughout the small handful of laws that allow poker to be played in “private” places, Rep. Wu’s bill would shut down the nascent industry in the state. According to Wu, as quoted by the Dallas Observer, “These legal defenses were written to allow for legal private gaming in the state without authorizing commercial operations.”
Instead, with the vague word of “place” currently used in the applicable laws, entrepreneurs opened semi-private clubs that were technically not open to the public, but instead charged admission on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The rooms then generated income through alternate means such as charging for time at a seat, instead of directly via rake, which is forbidden under Texas law.
An example of how the amended text, taken from HB 732, shows how simple Wu’s text change would be:
SECTION 1. Section 47.01(8), Penal Code, is amended to read as follows:
(8) “Private residence [
place]” means a dwelling [ place] to which the public does not have access, 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.
The strikethrough of “place” in the two instances shown, to be replaced by “private residence” or “dwelling”, are among the changes clarifying that the law allowing private poker games are not intended to be implemented for the benefit of Texas’s social-poker industry. Currently, battles over the rooms’ legality are being waged on the local and county level, with several rooms already raided by authorities or ordered closed by local agencies.
The as-yet-untitled bill will not be considered until some time in 2023, as Texas’s state legislature convenes only in odd-numbered years. As originally drafted and submitted, the law banning social-poker clubs in Texas would go into effect on September 21, 2023.