While casino gambling is illegal in Texas, poker rooms have found a way to operate that they say is entirely legal -- several are open in North Texas with more on the way.
Texas Card House in the Sam Moon Shopping Center on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas is open 24 hours a day. Professional dealers staff the tables and players wager chips backed by real money.
The private club opened in November and members say it is always busy.
“The place is sold out every single day with a waitlist off the television screen of people waiting to play this game. The demand is most certainly there,” member Matthew Rosenfield said.
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He and two other Southern Methodist University seniors who love the game started an business called Next Gen Poker. It sells shirts and promotes the game.
Jack Aiello, a partner in Next Gen Poker, said the group visited the Texas Card House in Dallas on the first day it opened.
Aiello said business opportunities and meeting new people is one of the attractions of visiting the poker room.
“You get social skills just by sitting at the table with other people and communicating,” he said.
The Texas Card House offers soft drinks and snacks and security with strict rules that reduce the danger involved with back alley poker games, according to the Next Gen Poker guys.
“I feel very comfortable. Three hundred dollars is a lot of money for me. I want to make sure that money is safe. And card rooms keep it safe,” Aiello said.
Texas Card House Chief Operating Officer Ryan Crow said three key features of his clubs make them legal in Texas: they are private, everyone has an equal chance of winning and the house gets no economic benefit from the gambling.
The club charges members an hourly seat rental fee of $13 and members keep all the money that’s on the table; there is “rake” for the house.
“We have plenty of security. We've had no major issues so far. We've been in touch with officials with Dallas PD, all the various units there. They know exactly who we are, what we're doing,” Crow said.
Texas Card House started in Austin and now also has Houston and Edinburg locations.
“You need to figure that wherever you’re placing your club, that it’s not going to adversely affect the people around you,” Crow said.
Crow said he recently counted around 100 poker rooms operating openly in Texas.
“There’s no doubt we’re providing a service people want,” Crow said. “The biggest complaint we get about the Dallas location, and I’m not kidding, is that we need to make the location bigger. We need more space.”
Another proposed Poker Room on the North Dallas Parkway has drawn loud opposition from neighbors.
The location is the former Three Forks Restaurant, which has single-family homes immediately behind it.
A recent demonstration against that club, to be called “Champions Social,” drew more than a dozen neighbors with signs.
“It's going to be a 24-hour poker room and we just feel very strongly it doesn't belong in the neighborhood,” resident Kimbery Shults said.
Jeremy Camp is the president of the Bent Tree North Homeowners Association.
“The opposition has been across the board. We have over a thousand signatures gathered to a petition in just a four-day span,” he said.
Neighbors were particularly alarmed about ads for a $2 million poker tournament at Champions Social in September, but General Manager Brian Dragovich said that tournament was postponed indefinitely.
Dragovich said poker would be just one entertainment option at the new club, with high-quality food and beverage service a main attraction. He said the plan for 24-hour operation was being reconsidered.
The vacant building where the club plans to open was a security threat to the neighborhood before renovations began, he said, and he’s offering to participate in the HOA’s security arrangements.
“The experience of the area, the security of this area is going to be enhanced. And the majority of individuals, once they see what we're going to provide, they'll actually be patrons,” Dragovich said.
The city of Dallas said no special use permit is required for poker in a private club at this former Three Forks location.
Another opponent of the Champions Social plan is Matt Bach, leader of the North Dallas Alliance, an organization that represents 60 homeowners’ associations.
“Sure they've found a loophole and it was working. And there's some operating. And there's lots of money behind these guys that want to come in, too. This is kind of the beginning if it goes unchecked,” Bach said.
Another Dallas poker club called Shuffle 214 opened a few weeks ago in a shopping center on Northwest Highway at Jupiter Road.
Poker House Dallas plans to open very soon on Regal Row in Dallas, just east of Stemmons Freeway in a former adult business location.
A second Texas Poker House location in Dallas on Montfort Drive near Interstate 635 received approval from the Dallas City Council for a special use permit.
“We did have advice from the city attorney that there was a grey area. And in this case, because there was a special use permit needed, the neighbors were notified. Nobody opposed. None of the businesses opposed,” Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.
She represents the area around the former Three Forks location and said she opposed poker there.
A special use permit is evidently not required for that location, but Mendelsohn said it should be.
“I believe in self-determination and if you’re going to have a poker room behind your house, I think you should have a say,” Mendelsohn said.
The city of Dallas is considering a change in the rules that could make special use permits required for future poker rooms, but that change would not be in place quickly.
“If we don’t stand up for this, these poker rooms are going to come to the neighborhood next to you,” Shults said.
Texas Card House CEO Ryan Crow said he was aware of the Three Forks location and the Champions Social plan.
“I was quite surprised that they were going to try to open, based on just what I thought was common knowledge of whether or not people would want you there and the answer is they don’t. We did not go into those areas specifically for that reason,” Crow said.
Unlike the other Dallas poker room locations that are in Dallas County, the former Three Forks location is in a portion of Dallas that lies in Collin County. That could make a difference.
Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis issued the following statement.
“While my office doesn’t give advisory legal opinions, I have yet to see a so-called 'Poker Room' business plan that didn’t run afoul of the law. My office will of course individually evaluate every case that is presented to us by our police partners, but Texas law is very clear in this area."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could also have an influence on the issue. His office did not respond to requests for comment.