Dallas Eyes Legal Path Forward for Poker Clubs | Dallas Observer

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Dallas Eyes Legal Path Forward for Poker Clubs

The litigation over poker clubs in Dallas could end up costing even more than $550,000 if appeals are filed.
The litigation over poker clubs in Dallas could end up costing even more than $550,000 if appeals are filed. Shutterstock
It's a good bet that Dallas doesn’t know what it wants to do with poker clubs. In 2019, the city gave a certificate of occupancy to the first legal poker room in Dallas, Texas Card House.

Then, although nothing had changed about the club, the city revoked the certificate of occupancy for Texas Card House in 2021 and said no others could be issued. The city also revoked the certificate it had issued to another poker club called Shuffle 214. When the two clubs appealed the revocation of their certificates to the city’s Board of Adjustment, they regained the certificates. The city sued its own Board of Adjustment in district court over this decision. The city was kicking its own ass in court with a ruling from Judge Eric Moyé in November that said the Board of Adjustment had abused its power by restoring the certificates.

This week the City Council approved funds to pay for the litigation. But council member Chad West took the opportunity to tap the brakes a little on Dallas’ fight against poker clubs so that work on a legal path forward for the businesses can begin. West moved to approve the funds, totaling at least $550,000, and to direct city staff to look into a legal land use for poker clubs in Dallas. This land use would ideally include protections for neighborhoods and proximity restrictions for poker clubs, West said.

When Dallas approved the poker operations, it did so with a certain understanding of state law. As long as the gambling was being conducted in a private place, every player had an equal chance of winning and the house didn’t take a cut of the bets, it was legal. At least, that was the city’s interpretation of Texas law at the time. In 2021, Dallas changed its tune when Senior Assistant Attorney Gary Powell said this gambling exception was never meant to apply to businesses. That’s when Dallas started revoking certificates of occupancy it had previously given to the businesses.

“We never wanted to be in this fight to begin with." – Ryan Crow, Texas Card House

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Texas Card House alone generated $1.1 million in property and sales tax revenue last year, West said. “Up to now, for this industry, the city has done everything that it can to eliminate the card house business and make it harder to do business in the city of Dallas,” West said. “We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’ve tied up the Board of Adjustment. We’ve tied up building officials, and we’ve been sued.”

Additionally, Texas Senate Joint Resolution 17 has been filed that could allow one casino in each of the state’s four major metro areas – Houston, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. If it passes in the legislature it would require a majority vote in a November constitutional referendum. According to a recent survey by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, 75% of Texans already say they support the legislation.

“This motion, if it’s adopted by council, flips the script here,” West said about his plan for Dallas poker rooms. “The intent is to direct staff to spend its time and energy in a positive way to help generate revenue for public safety, parks, and all the things we love, and provide a safe, regulated place for this industry to survive, away from neighborhoods.”

Before the City Council took up the issue at its meeting Wednesday, some residents spoke in support of continuing to fund the litigation. They said the poker clubs were illegal and a threat to public safety. But West said something Wednesday that poker advocates have been saying for ever: if you ban legal rooms, the illegal ones will flourish.

West’s motion was approved unanimously by the City Council.

Not surprisingly, Texas Card House CEO Ryan Crow is happy with the decision. “I am thrilled the city is looking into suitable zoning that social card clubs can use,” Crow said. He and his team will be reaching out to the city to see what it has in mind. He’s not sure if Dallas will allow businesses like his to participate in the process of creating the legal land use.

“We never wanted to be in this fight to begin with,” Crow said. “I think many people in the city see the value these clubs bring and realize they help the community.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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