Chicago-based lawyer Mark Lavery is taking legal action against card rooms in Texas, accusing them of operating illegally in the stat and being part of organized criminal groups.
For the most part, Lavery is going after card rooms in the San Antonio area.
According to his lawsuit, card rooms in Texas are operating in a gray area because legislation neither classifies them as legitimate businesses nor does it bar them from operating altogether.
Texas card rooms ducking and weaving through the law’s gray areas
Should Lavery’s lawsuit carry any weight whatsoever, things could change quickly. Lavery wants to challenge Texas Penal Code Chapter 47, which remains open to interpretation in that Texas poker games can take place in “private spaces.” This specific wording has allowed many card rooms to open in major parts of Texas, such as Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.
Another part of the law refers to prohibiting anyone from taking a rake, or a cut played in a poker game. Instead, card rooms charge an entry fee, either by the day or by the hour, and even a chair rental fee. After that, players can play poker against each other as they wish.
While this may seem like something shady or illegal is happening, the truth is the state is benefiting since the card rooms are paying their taxes.
Lavery wants to steer people away from problem gambling
Lavery’s main reasoning for going after Texas card rooms is to protect people from problem gambling.
Lavery has maintained that the bad far and away outweighs the good that comes from these card rooms. He wants to put a stop to it. One of the problems he sees coming from these establishments is people developing gambling disorders, which can ruin relationships and sometimes even lead to suicide.
In 2008, Lavery’s wife committed suicide, which spurred Lavery to address problem gambling.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Lavery stated in his lawsuit:
“The public nuisance also harms loved ones, who are survivors of suicide by loved ones or are harmed by dealing with financial problems of loved ones exploited by criminal gambling like this one.”
Could House Bill 2345 and this lawsuit clash?
Rep. Ryan Guillen has sponsored HB 2345, the first social poker bill. The goal is to clearly define the wording surrounding card rooms in Texas. Currently, “economic benefit” and “private place” are up to interpretation.
The Lodge Card Club owner Doug Polk founded Texans for Texas Hold’em, which helped draft the bill. This group has also gathered a lot of support from the community to meet its goals.
The problem is whether any potential outcomes from the lawsuit will impact the bill’s success and vice versa.
Guillen received a contribution of $25,000 from the Las Vegas Sands PAC in 2022 in support of legalizing gambling in Texas. Lavery has been actively lobbying against these companies. He’s also made an effort to block many other forms of gambling, such as fantasy sports gambling, sports betting and poker.
HB 2345 sits in the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures. It recently received a public hearing and was left pending with no clear indication that it will eventually be reported favorably by the committee.