Dallas Could Be Close To Legalizing Card Rooms

Written By Phil West on December 19, 2023 - Last Updated on December 20, 2023
A person playing Texas Hold 'Em at a card room on a story about the city of Dallas attempting to legalize them.

The city of Dallas, four years after granting a certificate of occupancy for a poker room that’s since set off a legal debate, may soon be set to resolve the dispute … to the benefit of gamers in the Metroplex.

According to the Dallas Observer, a staff report requested nearly 11 months ago to potentially open the door to legal card rooms in Dallas has been delivered.

The Observer article noted that there’s few details at this time.

“Bertram Vandenberg, interim chief of general counsel for the city attorney, said he didn’t want to get too deep into the substance of the potential change because of pending litigation, but he did offer some details. The attorney’s office and Planning & Urban Design Department are looking into a land-use categorization for private game clubs beyond just poker.”

Land-use designation could end city v. city lawsuit

Texas card rooms are legal depending on how state law is interpreted. Right now, there is no law making them legal. On the other hand, there is no specific law that says they’re illegal.

City Councilman Chad West asked staff to look into a legal land-use category for card rooms in Dallas in January. It was an attempt to resolve a dispute between the city and its own Board of Adjustment over whether card rooms are legal. When contacted by PlayTexas, West said:

“The recent Government Performance & Financial Management committee (of the city council) meeting brought to light the fact that Dallas city staff had taken no action to date regarding the creation of a legal path forward for operation for legitimate game room operators. This is despite the fact that the Dallas City Council directed them to do so in February 2023.”

He noted that this could, however, resolve in the New Year, adding:

“The city attorney’s office and Planning & Urban Design staff represented that they would be returning to City Council in early 2024 to present a new draft land use policy for game rooms for City Council to consider.”

That’s key, according to West, because of how the case has been approached to date. He noted:

“The City Attorney’s Office is of the opinion (which it has expressed publicly) that card houses, in the way they have been traditionally operated, are in violation of the Texas Penal Code. So, unless the state changes the penal code, or the city comes up with an alternative land use, or both, nothing will change in Dallas as it relates to card houses. Per the directive of Council, Planning & Urban Design staff are working on a new land use to allow for card rooms. I’m optimistic that we’ll find common ground on a new land use, which allows card houses to operate along with other games of chance such as pool and darts.”

The saga started in 2019, when Texas Card House was able to get clearance from the city to operate a poker room, the Observer said.

“An exception for gambling was carved out in state law that some say makes poker clubs legal. According to that viewpoint, such clubs are legal as long as the game is being played in a private place, every player has an equal chance of winning and no one benefits economically besides from their personal winnings. The local clubs were considered private places because they charged a membership fee to players.”

But in 2021, the city reversed course and revoked certificates for Texas Card House and another card room. Though those clubs appealed to the Board of Adjustment and got their licenses back, that led to Dallas’ top building inspector to sue the Board of Adjustment over the action. It was essentially the city suing the city over the card rooms.

Dallas City Council looks for solution outside of courts

That Observer article also quoted Texas Card House CEO Ryan Crow, who lamented the costs of the legal fight.

“We’ve just been nudging them to do something so that we can end the legal part of it because it’s just incredibly expensive. We’d rather be working together to find a solution than fighting it out with attorneys.”

There seems to be two competing thoughts among city officials. The city attorney is interested in seeing how it will play out in the courts, while City Council officials are looking to forge a solution. It might include relocating card rooms but keeping them in the city’s Central Business District.

Earlier this year, West noted that Dallas is supposed to be a pro-business city. He cited the tax revenue generated by card rooms to be a positive. That article also contrasted legal, above-board card rooms with the crimes and unruly elements that can accompany illegal gaming rooms.

In a state where precious few legal gambling options currently exist, poker players await a resolution to this issue.

Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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