City Of Dallas Working On Plan To Legalize Card Rooms

Written By TJ McBride on February 10, 2023
Card rooms in Dallas could become legal under new plan

After months of legal battling between the city of Dallas and card rooms, the Dallas City Council voted unanimously Jan. 25 to direct city staff to draft a new land-use category so card rooms can continue to operate.

The goal is to create a framework for private poker halls to stay open under the oversight of the city. The Dallas City Attorney’s Office will work with city staff to create language as to location and proximity to protect neighborhoods while continuing to promote a business friendlycity.

Plan will include proximity restrictions and ‘substantial income’ test

Card rooms, or poker rooms, are technically illegal in Texas, even though more than 50 exist across the state. Along with pending litigation, legislation at the Texas Capitol could clear up the confusion. Card room operators, though, worry that they’ll be forced out of business.

Dallas City Council Member Chad West is spearheading the effort to keep the card rooms in operation. He told The Oak Cliff Advocate a solution must be found.

“The city manager confirmed that staff will work with the City Attorney’s Office to craft a land-use category that considers current penal code restrictions on card houses and also provisions that will protect neighborhoods, such as proximity limitations.”

Essentially, proximity restrictions will keep legal card houses away from schools and other residential areas. In addition, there will be a “substantial income” test in the penal code that card rooms will have to adhere to, West told PlayTexas.

“The City Attorney’s Office and Planning and Urban Design staff have stated that they will craft a new use category for card rooms that would both comply with the current penal code and allow card rooms an opportunity to operate. Due to penal code restrictions, the new use category would likely require card room operators to add additional gaming options, such as arcade games, shuffleboard, darts, etc, in order to generate additional income to offset the “substantial income” test in the penal code. It is not ideal for traditional card room operators, at least from what I am being told, but it does offer a legal alternative for operation while we wait for appellate courts or the state Legislature to legalize poker.” 

Card rooms can choose new categorization or await fate from courts

Creating a plan like this, while challenging, will be straight forward for current and future card house owners and operators, West told PlayTexas.

“Existing card rooms will have the opportunity to remain under their current use category, as long as there is a “stay” by courts in shutting them down, or they may opt into the new categorization as soon as it is enacted by staff.  New operators may only apply under the new category until and unless the penal code changes.”

The plan passed because of the new requirements card rooms will have to operate under, West said.

“This was passed unanimously in large part because I adjusted the city attorney’s suggested motion and added in a provision requiring protections for neighborhoods (including proximity requirements). It will be important for the city attorney and Planning staff to work with stakeholders and advocates to determine what proximity requirements would be ideal for card rooms in relation to neighborhoods.”

Some entities, however, want to see an end to card rooms. That includes Thomas DuPree, who represents the Bent Tree North neighborhood in Dallas.

“The damages to a neighborhood that has a nearby poker club go well beyond the values of safety and neighborhoods. The economic hardship that would be placed on a neighborhood like the one I represent would be significant. Just a 10% reduction in home value would result in a real loss of over $50 million. The cost of litigation pales to this number. These establishments are illegal and cannot be regulated.” 

Supporters say banning rooms would send them underground

Also at the Jan. 25 meeting, Council approved more than $550,000 to pay for pending litigation against some Dallas card rooms. The card rooms were at first deemed legal by The Board of Adjustment, but a city official then sued the board, saying they lacked the authority to rule on the legality of the businesses.

Supporters of card rooms argue that banning them would send them underground, “where they would operate illegally and in potentially dangerous setting.” That would only increase crime in the areas detractors are trying to protect. West believes there’s a win-win solution.

“This is Dallas,” West said. “We’re supposed to be a city that is pro-business. This motion, if it’s adopted by council, flips the script here. The intent is to direct staff to spend its time and energy in a positive way to generate revenue for public safety, parks, and all the things we love, and provide a safe, regulated place for this industry to survive away from neighborhoods.”

These card houses also contribute quite a lot of tax revenue to the city itself, West said. 

“Just last year, Texas Card House (which is involved in litigation against the city) provided over $1.1 million in property and sales tax revenue,”

Fight over card rooms much like struggle to shut down illegal game rooms

Dallas experiencing an awakening on card rooms is refreshing. Officials like West understand that making them legal and regulated reduces the chance they’ll be havens for crime. The same logic should take place across the rest of Texas when it comes to game rooms.

About a week ago, a man was shot and killed at a home that was being used as an illegal gambling establishment. The home had several slot machines, known as eight-liners, as well as lots of cash.

On Nov. 10 of last year, there was a double raid at two separate suspected illegal gambling operations. Authorities found 60 slot machines, detaining 33 people. There was also a stolen car and organized crime ties found at both locations.

At another double bust late last year, authorities found illegal slot machines, weapons, stolen cars, cash and drugs. Each location raided had an armed gang member as a guard. There were 70 total eight-liners between the two locations.

Authorities at a raid in May 2022 found a large stack of money, weapons, an ATM machine and stolen cars. A bust a couple of months earlier resulted in dozens of guns and drugs being found.

The reality is that nobody wants to see this kind of crime in their communities, regardless of the presence of game rooms. However, raids on these game rooms are also unsettling for people living in the vicinity. If cities like Dallas can find ways to keep poker clubs above ground, they have a better chance of regulating the businesses and protecting the adjacent communities.

Photo by Shutterstock
TJ McBride Avatar
Written by
TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver, Colorado who covers the Denver Nuggets as a beat writer and the current gaming landscape in Texas. His byline can be found across many websites such as ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report, and others.

View all posts by TJ McBride