Texas card rooms number in the dozens if not more, but there is no explicit law that makes them legal. If you have been driving around some of the largest cities in the state, you have likely seen the word “POKER” on strip mall marquees and freestanding buildings along freeways and highways. These privately run card rooms have grown in number during the last few years.
As many things go with gambling in Texas, the explanation for why card rooms exist is complicated. This page will explain the legal aspects of Texas card rooms, how they operate, where they are located, and their tenuous future.
Are card rooms legal in Texas?
In terms of a specific or explicit law, no. In terms of operating within the confines of existing law, possibly.
First and foremost, there is nothing within the Texas Constitution or its statutes that makes the existence of these clubs legal. If you are looking for regulated and legal entities that pay taxes to the state (as card clubs) and operate under the oversight of a specific state agency, you aren’t going to find anything like that.
The card room owners are not flouting state law in plain view. Instead, they attempt to operate in ways that satisfy key conditions necessary for a successful defense against prosecution under existing statutes.
How Texas card rooms are able to operate
The Texas Penal Code lays out a series of activities that the law considers to be offenses. Title 10, Chapter 47 of the code makes explicit various gambling actions that are on this list of prohibitions. As a general rule, the code is broad and makes almost every type of gambling illegal. However, presumably in an effort to keep home poker games legal, lawmakers included a curious set of conditions.
Under these parameters, a person could admit to gambling (as defined by the code), or, more specifically, to “keeping a gambling place,” but not be subject to legal sanction. Here are those conditions:
- The gambling occurred in a private place.
- No person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings.
- Except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all participants.
What card room owners in Texas have done is create private clubs that seemingly satisfy these conditions:
- They require all entrants to be club members.
- They charge only cover charges and/or time fees for sitting at the table.
- They do not offer any games with a house advantage.
Perhaps the most obvious difference poker players will notice in the cash games is the absence of a rake. Not taking a rake is another tactic the rooms employ to avoid appearing to receive a direct economic benefit from the games. In lieu of rake, the rooms require membership fees, daily fees, and hourly fees from players.
Whether the poker rooms in Texas fully comply with the three conditions is still a question. There have been some sporadic raids, but the clubs continue to blossom and open more locations.
Pro poker players take part in Texas tournaments
Top poker vloggers Brad Owen, Andrew Neeme, and Doug Polk have recently upped the stakes by buying ownership positions at one of the poker clubs in Austin, TX. Other well-known pros like Chris Moneymaker, Darren Elias, and Matt Berkey have served as ambassadors for major tournaments. Mike Matusow was recently signed on as well to represent one of the clubs.
Texas, meanwhile, has managed to become home to some of the largest poker games in the United States. Several games with stakes not available outside of the high-limit rooms in Las Vegas or Los Angeles have taken place. There have been several major tournament series, many featuring main events with seven-figure guarantees. Multiple card rooms have begun live streaming their big games to the masses, as well.
At any point, an opinion from the state district attorney could bring everything to a halt. However, he hasn’t chosen to do so yet. He flatly declined to opine in 2018, and a 2021 request still has no response.
Is it safe to play at Texas card rooms?
If you are used to the level of security and fairness at regulated casinos, you might find a few lacking elements at Texas card rooms.
For the most part, security at these locations is fair. Most of them employ an armed security guard at all times. The guard can escort you to your vehicle if you like. The rooms themselves have cashier cages with various security measures, such as bars and keyed points of entry, to protect against robberies.
However, none of these measures approach the level of major casinos and regulated card rooms in terms of their ability to respond. Robberies and attempted robberies do happen, and some poker players have been the victims of violence from time to time. It’s also not uncommon for players’ cars to be subject to theft. These incidents don’t happen often, but it would be inaccurate to act as though there’s no risk.
In terms of fairness, that’s more of a mixed bag. Without any overarching regulation, nothing is stopping a game runner from charging an exorbitant time charge or cover fee. Similarly, the exact rules for people overseeing the games vary from room to room and may not meet the typical standards of a “professional” card room.
As Justin Hammer, the tournament director at Prime Social Club (one of the more popular card rooms in the state), told PlayTexas:
“I would always recommend doing your research on any club that you were going to play before going there,” adding that, “You’ll sometimes see things that you would never see in a place that does have a regulatory board.”
While it is true that poorly run rooms don’t usually last very long, they can be a hassle to your time and your wallet in the short term.
Games available at Texas card rooms
For the most part, games available at Texas poker rooms boil down to No-Limit Texas Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha. There might be one-off spreads of other games, but these two games are the most common.
Oddly enough, PLO might be the more popular game in some of the rooms. The larger pots and greater variance give less-skilled players a bit more hope than the standard NLHE game. In addition, many PLO games in Texas play much bigger than their blind levels would suggest, due to a lack of capped buy-ins or the maximum buy-in being limited to the largest stack at the table. It’s not uncommon for a $1/$3 or $2/$5 PLO game to have thousands of dollars on the table.
Many TX card rooms and/or games within card rooms conduct bomb pots every half-hour or hour. With a bomb pot, every player pays a set amount up front, and action proceeds directly to a flop. Bomb pots can occur in both hold ’em and Omaha games but are more common with PLO. They can be great for a bit of extra risk-taking, but you do not have to participate if you don’t want to.
Top 10 card rooms in Texas
A recent check showed there are more than 50 poker clubs operating all around Texas. Some are relatively small rooms with only a handful of tables, while others have dozens of tables and regularly host major tournament series with large prize pools.
Most of the clubs are found surrounding the Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio areas. That said, there are clubs in or near many other towns and cities as well, including Amarillo, El Paso, Lubbock, Waco, and Wichita Falls.
Here’s a current look at the 10 largest Texas poker clubs according to the number of active tables:
|101 Poker Club Richmond||Houston||63|
|The Lodge Poker Club||Round Rock (near Austin)||60|
|Poker House of Dallas||Dallas||30|
|Texas Card House Dallas||Dallas||26|
|52 Social Club||Round Rock (near Austin)||26|
|Prime Social Poker Club||Houston||23|
|Legends Poker Room||Houston||23|
|Texas Card House North Houston||Spring (near Houston)||20|
|Capri Poker Room||Webster (near Houston)||20|
The future of Texas card rooms
When it comes to predicting the future of Texas card rooms, it’s hard to say what is to come. The situation is a bit like a hand of Texas Hold’em that has reached the turn, where a lot of betting has built a significant pot. A river card is coming, and it’s anyone’s guess how that will affect the action going forward.
There are dozens of card rooms active in Texas at this time. They are operating in what some consider a legal gray area. Up to this point, law enforcement in the state hasn’t wanted to address the topic on a large scale.
Poker is openly available in Texas at these popular card rooms. There’s no telling how long the free-for-all will continue, but it’s wise to expect a response sometime soon, as the games and dollar amounts are growing too large to ignore.