All illegal gambling charges against players stemming from an October raid of the Watauga Social Lounge Poker Club have been dropped.
In October of 2022, Fort Worth and Dallas authorities raided the Watauga Social Lounge Poker Club. Authorities arrested and charged dozens of employees and sent them to the county jail, while many patrons received fines.
Fast forward to April, and the charges against the players in the room have been dropped. Employees are still awaiting their fate.
How the Texas poker room raid unfolded
This all transpired on the second day of Watauga’s weekend $420 no-limit Hold ’Em $100,000 guarantee Texas poker tournament. There were 369 entries in total, and 53 of those returned to battle it out on the day in question. The prize pool got up to $132,840.
Authorities seized $205,000 in cash along with at least $150,000 worth of equipment.
According to the warrant signed by Judge George Gallagher, authorities were looking for other gambling devices such as dice, roulette wheels and other video gambling machines. If found to have been in use for gambling purposes, they would be in violation of Texas Penal Code Chapter 47.
Here’s a look at some of the items seized and taken into custody as per the search warrant:
- Tickets, papers, bank bags, receipts, money, gift certificates, coupons, credit card receipts documenting entries, add-on plays
- dealer/staff appreciation, administrative fees, payoffs, checks cashed by players
- Manuals, promotional literature relating to gambling devices
- All business records pertaining to ownership of gambling devices
- Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) located inside the business
- All business records pertaining to employees or staff
- Currency, gambling proceeds, financial instruments, safes, money boxes, bank records, ledgers, notes, money orders, credit card records, receipts for cashier checks
- Counter-surveillance equipment including video surveillance devices, digital video recorders, hard drives
46 player charges dropped, employees await fate
The charges for keeping a gambling place in Texas can be up to one year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.
The 49 players that were still in the tournament received fines amounting to $360 each. Of those players, three of them signed plea deals. Fortunately for the remaining 46 players, authorities dropped the charges against them on April 18.
The criminal charges against the arrested employees are still hanging in the balance.
Poker players involved in raid want justice
While the 46 players are relieved about having their charges dropped and fines removed, they are also very upset about the raid and the seizures.
Social media posts from some of the players involved express anger towards an unjust raid. They want to claim back the $205,000 in cash that authorities seized. And they even went as far as implying that the raid was not legal.
According to an article by PokerNews, in a Facebook post, player Steve Nichols said, “It’s vindicating to see the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office cower in the face of folks willing to stand up to them. We’ll count this one as a win for the good guys.”
Poker legislation could put an end to these types of raids
House Bill 2345, which currently sits in the House Committee on Calendars awaiting floor debate, would amend Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code to clarify terms around poker clubs in Texas. The terms “economic benefit” and “private place” have been hotly debated over the last year in an effort to shut down private poker clubs and give law enforcement more latitude to conduct raids such as this.
Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, has sponsored the bill with the backing of Doug Polk, owner of The Lodge Poker Club. Polk, along with other Texas poker players, has founded Texans For Texas Hold ’em, a group aiming to protect poker games in Texas. HB 2345 was born out of this desire to clarify the law to carve out space for poker clubs like Watauga.
Should it pass, tournaments like Watauga’s no-limit hold ’em event could see significant upticks in entrees and the likely dropping of any remaining charges against the club’s employees.