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The Battle for Texas Hold’em in Texas

March 8, 2023

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Texas Hold’em is the most popular variant of poker today, but Texas Hold’em is technically illegal in the state of Texas!

Texas is one of the strictest states in the nation when it comes to gambling. The law states that all gambling for profit, outside of casinos on land dedicated to Native Americans, is illegal. Because of this, poker rooms in Texas have been driven underground, where shady dealings are more likely to take place. This leads to the overall negative view of poker as a criminal activity. There’s a loophole in the law, however, that makes private poker rooms questionably legal in Texas.

The current rules for establishing a legal poker room are as follows:

  • You have to play in a private setting, like a private poker club.
  • You can’t have an economic benefit from the gambling itself, so clubs cannot take a rake. Many private poker clubs operate by charging membership fees instead.
  • Clubs must operate in a manner that charges by the hour to be within the facility.
  • Everyone has to have an equal chance of winning. Other gambling games, like blackjack, craps, or roulette, are illegal. Only games that are player versus player with no house component are allowed.

This loophole has enabled poker clubs, acting as “social clubs”, to pop up around the state, based on county regulations. There are currently a handful of clubs in all major cities, including Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, and some smaller cities like Lubbock and Midland.

This grey area is in question, though. Many think that it doesn’t exist at all and that all forms of poker fall under the “illegal gambling” umbrella. The key word in the loophole is that the games must take place in a private “setting”. A setting can be a social club, therefore these clubs aren’t illegal. In November of 2022 however, a bill that would change this wording to private “residence” was proposed. If this bill passes, it will make all current poker rooms illegal in Texas and relegate live poker games to private homes.

The battle for Texas Hold’em in Texas continues. Will poker rooms be dealt a final blow in the state, or will they be allowed to continue? The House is expected to hear arguments later this year.