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Texas lawmakers mulling change to vague gambling law

Poker at Texas card house

The Texas legislature is revisiting a proposed bill by State Rep. Gene Wu to amend a misconstrued term in Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code that addresses gambling in the state.

According to the state laws, gambling is only permissible through a certain set of strict rules that include “gambling at a private place” and ensuring that no one else, other than the gambler themselves, benefits monetarily from the outcomes of the bets that are placed.

Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code states: “It is a defense to prosecution [for gambling]” if “the actor engaged in gambling [is] in a private place; no person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings; [and] except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all.”

As a result of the term “private place” in the law, private operators have taken leeway to include poker rooms at their facilities. Although Wu has stated that the “private place” in question means “private residence,” he has nonetheless proposed for clarity in the law in order to shut down clubs indulging in poker after the amendment is made.

Wu’s bill lists which places fall under “private residence” and which places are excluded. Public places such as clubs, schools, restaurants, hotels, offices, and shops, even though they are privately owned properties, are prohibited. Also, poker is not allowed in streets, common areas of apartments, etc.

Wu noted that the law has permitted only private homes because, even though the laws of the state do not authorize poker, it still wants gamblers to be able to play in the comfort of their homes legally.

“These legal defenses were written to allow for legal private gaming in the state without authorizing commercial operations. In recent years, these defenses have been used to create private poker clubs that attempt to operate within their language, while creating for-profit gaming enterprises, Wu said.

“Since it is likely that creating a licensing process to regulate these clubs is not politically achievable in our current Legislature, we believe that clarifying the law in this manner is the only way to eliminate the confusion around these clubs.”

Club operators are not taking the bait, as they are determined to fight back and are enlisting reasons why the bill is inappropriate. The Texas Card House, which was given a license of occupancy by the state in 2020, was called out for indulging in poker activities, and a revoking of operations from the operator was proposed by the court in January of this year.

The owner of the club, Ryan Crow, noted in a statement that he will be getting reinforcements from other affected clubs and operators to oppose the law.

“We have a couple of bills we plan to submit as well and, of course, we’re going to be talking to representatives about [Wu’s] and hopefully making sure it doesn’t pass,” he said.

“That bill would put thousands of people out of a job … and also push tens of thousands of poker players back underground into illegal games. So, hopefully, we can get that message to the legislators and they agree it’s not a good idea to push that bill through.”

It is also important to note that the laws of Texas do not permit sports betting; however, lotteries are permitted, and under strict guidelines, raffles, bingo, and parimutuel wagering on horse racing are allowed.

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