In the ongoing legal battle over whether poker clubs may operate in the state of Texas, it appears taxpayers will have to pick up the tab. Even more surprising, the city of Dallas finds itself fighting a court battle on both sides of the issue.
Dallas in a unique position
State lawmakers are mostly to blame for not specifying in law whether Texas poker rooms can legally exist. Technically, they’re prohibited, but ambiguity in the law has allowed more than 50 poker clubs to operate throughout Texas for several years.
According to the Dallas Observer, the Dallas City Council will convene next month to consider authorizing an additional $600,000 in its continued efforts to revoke the occupancy permits of two Dallas poker clubs, Texas Card House and Shuffle 214. The city has already allocated $200,000 to cover legal expenses related to the dispute.
The funds will be to both fight and defend cases concerning poker clubs in Dallas. On one hand, the city is trying to secure a court order that upholds Dallas Code Compliance Department Assistant Andrew Espinoza’s revocation of the Texas Card House’s certification of occupancy. He sued the Dallas Board of Adjustment after it twice ruled that the poker club should remain open.
On the other side, the city is defending the Board of Adjustment and its ruling in its fight against Espinoza. With legal expenses rising, it will be taxpayers who ultimately lose.
Poker clubs in city were OK, then they weren’t
Both poker clubs have appointed their own legal teams. Shuffle 214 in Lake Highlands faces a separate legal case over its right to operate. That lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in the summer. A third Dallas club, Poker House of Dallas, has also been sued by the city. It is looking at similar closure threats.
The city approved poker businesses to open in 2020. Officials interpreted the law as allowing for “social clubs” as long as the house was not taking a percentage of bets or winnings. However, a re-examination of the law the following year saw the city reverse its stance.
For Dallas Senior Assistant Attorney Gary Powell, businesses such as Texas Card House aren’t private places like a person’s home. He says that is what the law is referring to when it uses the term “private place.” The city then declared the three active poker clubs in Dallas were operating illegally and repealed their city-issued certificates of occupancy. They also barred other social clubs from obtaining a license.
Judge’s ruling said Board of Adjustment made an illegal decision
The Dallas City Council initially planned to vote on the proposed funds allocation during its Dec. 14 general hearing. Instead, the issue was put off until Council Member Chad West was up to speed on the licensing conflict.
West feels, as many taxpayers undoubtedly do, that $300,000 to resolve a “relatively simple question” is a lot of money.
The discussion follows in the wake of a ruling by Dallas County Circuit Judge Eric Moyé in October. Moyé ruled that the Board of Adjustment “abused its discretion and made an illegal decision” by overturning the city’s revocation of Texas Card House’s certification of occupancy.
On Nov. 28, lawyers for Texas Card House filed notice with the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District. They are challenging Moyé’s ruling.
According to the Dallas Observer, the City Council expects to debate the issue this month. However, the matter is not on the draft agenda for the next council meeting on Jan. 11. There’s still time to add the topic to that meeting. Or it could be revisited at another scheduled meeting two weeks later.
For now, all three clubs remain open.
Effort underway to close the loophole
Similarly, Poker House of Dallas found itself in hot water in November when its owners were slapped with a lawsuit for code violations. The suit claims the business was operating as a strip club under the name of La Zona Rosa Cabaret when it obtained its latest certificate of occupancy in 2017.
While gambling is still not legal in Texas, the push to make it so is gaining momentum. Late last year, Texas lawmaker Gene Wu (D-Houston) introduced House Bill 732 which aims to legalize gambling in The Lone Star State and address the “social club” loophole.
Wu reiterated in an interview with PokerNews that his intentions are not to ban poker in Texas but rather to give individual counties the power to determine legality.