Despite Earlier Reports, Magic Island Won’t Offer Private Gambling As Part Of Summer Reopening

Written By Phil West on March 27, 2024
Hands doing card magic signify private gambling possibly coming to Magic Island.

Houston’s iconic Magic Island, once a vibrant club featuring magic shows, dancing and other forms of entertainment, has been dormant since 2008 due to Hurricane Ike and a subsequent fire.

Several media reports in the past week had the club reopening this summer — with private gambling one of the primary attractions of its rebirth. But now the venue’s manager, who told a reporter that gambling was coming, is contradicting that story.

While including private gambling would skirt the line around poker rooms in Texas, it appears that the new-look Magic Island Club may not be what it seems.

Conflicting accounts on presence of private gambling at Magic Island

Magic Island’s general manager Michael Loneman backpedaled on his statement in a March 18 Houston Chronicle story that patrons with a Black Card membership would be able to “play poker, blackjack and roulette in a bespoke room” inside the Egyptian-themed facility at 2215 Southwest Freeway.

The Chronicle story, from reporter Jef Rouner, also noted that “at least 30 private gambling clubs have opened in Texas, citing a loophole in current law that allows them to operate if they charge membership fees instead of taking a cut of profits.”

On Tuesday, though, Loneman told PlayTexas,

“Although we had poker tables here at one time, now Magic Island is purely a restaurant and Vegas-style shows, but there is no gambling at all. At one time, we had some private poker tables, and we do have private membership. It’s a VIP Black Card, is what it is, and that gives you all the perks that VIP membership gives you.”

He went on to characterize Rouner’s reporting about the gambling as a “misprint,” claiming “the media took that and ran with it.”

However, Rouner, who also talked to PlayTexas on Tuesday, stands by his reporting and shared a recording with PlayTexas in which Loneman extolled features of the new club. In that recording, Loneman said,

“We have a disco dance room with a retractable ceiling that opens and closes … I’ve got a gambling room with poker tables at the front, roulette, blackjack, poker, VIP casino-type stuff.”

He explained the legality of gambling within a private-club setting by using an analogy that made it into Rouner’s story and is also in the shared audio: “Kind of like a teenage daughter who wants to drink wine with the family.”

Magic Island ownership avoids the term “gambling” in local media coverage

Three days after the Chronicle story came out, a pair of Houston TV stations ran stories following up on the Magic Island reopening. In both of them, owner Dr. Mohammad Athari was quoted as saying gambling would not be part of the club’s reinvention.

He told KTRK-TV (ABC13) that “the venue will host other types of entertainment instead.” In that story, project consultant Brett Hightower said, “This theater will contain a lot of acts from across the nation, from comedians, magicians, even businesses who want to host an expo here. We have it all, and we are ready to serve you.”

Athari told KHOU-TV that gambling would “absolutely not” be part of Magic Island’s plan. He also said, regarding prior suitors seeking to take over the building, “I had an offer from Playboy. I refuse. And also [refuse] topless bars.”

With the club about 80% complete by the Chronicle’s estimation and slated for completion sometime this summer, fans interested in exploring the iconic Houston attraction won’t have long to wait to see what that Black Card membership will get them.

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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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