Texas State Sen. Jose Menendez introduces companion social-poker bill

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: March 14, 2023 9:29 pm EDT

Texas State Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) has introduced a companion bill to formally legalize social-poker clubs in Texas. Menendez’s Senate Bill 1681 was filed last week and is identical in core language to the Texas House Bill (HB 2345), which was introduced by State Representative Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) in February.

Though introduced, Menendez’s bill has yet to be assigned to a committee and will likely receive little consideration until Rep. Guillen’s lower-chamber bill generates significant support. Guillen’s HB 2345 languished for nearly a month before receiving its initial House floor reading and being assigned to the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee on Thursday.

As with HB 2345, Sen. Menendez’s new SB 1681 was introduced with the support of Texans for Hold’em, a pro-social-poker lobbying interest created by the owners of four of Texas’s largest social-poker clubs.

Return to poker legislation for Menendez

Senator Menendez’s legislative interest in bringing live poker to a wider Texas audience stretches back many years. Before becoming a state senator in 2015, he served a portion of the San Antonio area as a state representative. A poker player himself, he introduced at least three bills that would have legalized card rooms in Texas.

The third of those efforts, 2009’s House Bill 222, passed its initial committee hurdle — the same Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee where Rep. Guillen’s recent HB 2345 measure sits — on a 6-3 vote.

Despite that success, however, Menendez withdrew his bill in the face of staunch anti-gambling opposition, which included a threatened veto from Texas’s then-governor, Rick Perry. Rumors circulated at the time that cross-border casinos in Oklahoma also lobbied against Menendez’s measure, making its potential passage even more unlikely.

At the time of Menendez’s earlier bills, Texas’s social-poker club model had yet to be fully realized. That business model, in which rooms operate by generating income in means other than direct rake at the tables, is viewed as a legal loophole, which has in turn led to a statewide grey area and numerous local- and county-level enforcement actions against a handful of clubs.

Featured image source: Texans for Hold’em