How Do Legal Texas Poker Rooms Differ From Underground Ones?

Written By Hill Kerby on November 30, 2022
What makes a Texas poker room legal?

Casino gambling is exclusively prohibited by Texas state law, but dozens of poker rooms across the state operate as legal establishments called social clubs.

Poker rooms operate in gray area of law

Online poker for real money is prohibited in Texas. And while there are dozens of poker rooms across the state, there are no commercial casinos in Texas.

Most poker rooms in Texas are considered legal, but all of them operate in a gray area of the law, even varying from county to county. Still, many rooms are thriving, offering 24/7 cash games across multiple stakes, live-streamed games and tournaments with prize pools exceeding $1 million.

What are the most popular poker rooms in Texas and what separates them from illegal, underground games?

How are poker rooms legal in Texas?

Texas provides ideal conditions for poker: a large population, a strong poker culture and money from thriving industries such as oil, technology and healthcare.

Poker, though, like most gambling in Texas, has been considered illegal in the state for a long time. Only underground games operated for decades.

Then, Sam Von Kennel opened Texas Card House (TCH) in 2015, operating legally under Texas state law. Unlike casinos, TCH acted as a private social club in accordance with Texas Penal Code Chapter 47, Sec. 47.04 by meeting three qualifications:

  • Games are played in a private place, defined as somewhere the public does not have access to.
  • No person receives any economic benefit other than personal winnings
  • Except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning are the same for all participants.

TCH set the model by charging membership fees, thereby making the place private. These fees also acted in lieu of a rake, a percentage or fixed amount that traditional card rooms take from pots in cash games to make money.

Lastly, poker is a zero-sum game, leaving no true house advantage like other forms of casino gambling like slots, keno and roulette. By only offering poker, TCH satisfied the third qualification.

Poker rooms still face raids, other legal actions

Despite the “social club” designation, local jurisdictions interpret the law as they see fit rather than on one unified standard.

Many of these rooms operate under the full support of local law enforcement, some even employing police officers onsite. However, others have fallen victim to raids and other legal actions or have shut down due to unsound and unsafe business practices.

Generally speaking, Texas poker rooms are safe places to play. However, the unregulated climate does bring about a greater possibility for violence and police raids, such as Houston’s Post Oak Poker Club and Prime Social in 2019. Charges were ultimately dropped for both clubs.

In late 2021, poker pro Johnny Chan’s Houston-area room was shut down due to financial shortages. The room took on new ownership and reopened three weeks later as 101 Poker Club Richmond with no further issues.

Outside Dallas, Top Shelf Poker Room was shut down on suspicion of illegally receiving an added economic benefit. The raid occurred last March, and the room remains permanently closed. TCH’s Dallas location is facing similar allegations, though mainly for failing to operate in a private place. It can stay open for business until the Texas Supreme Court rules on its appeal.

Most recently, authorities raided Texas’ largest room, Wautauga Social Lounge, situated between Fort Worth and Dallas, during the final day of a poker tournament with a $100K guaranteed prize pool. All assets were seized, and the room remains closed indefinitely.

At the end of the day, players should understand the risks associated with playing at their local card rooms. If a room doesn’t feel safe, you can always try another or visit a neighboring state’s casino.

Over 60 card rooms operate in The Lone Star State

According to Poker Atlas, Texas is home to over 60 poker rooms in more than a dozen cities. Some of these rooms are as small as four tables, with others offering upwards of 82 tables.

Below are Texas’ most popular poker clubs.

Lodge Card Club (Round Rock)

Lodge Card Club, located north of Austin, is the largest in Texas, with 82 tables and regular games as high as $5/$10. Occasionally, $5/$10/$25 games run in both NL Hold’em and PL Omaha, in which co-owners Doug Polk, Brad Owen and Andrew Neeme sometimes participate.

Players can join the waitlist via the Poker Atlas app or by calling (512) 614-4045.

The room also advertises having the most comfortable chairs, 40 big-screen TVs and a lounge/waiting area. All players must obtain a membership to enter the premises, separate from the $10 hourly club access fee.:

  • Open 24/7
  • Membership: $15 weekly, $25 monthly or $200 yearly. (Does not include club access fee of $10 per hour while inside the venue)
  • Complementary water, soft drinks and coffee
  • Cash games include No-Limit Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha and Big-O. Some tables also participate in bomb pots.
  • Daily tournaments, including weekend events with $150K-$500K prize pools
  • For tournaments, the club charges a flat access fee in place of the hourly rate

Texas Card House (multiple locations)

Texas Card House has four locations, operating in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Rio Grande Valley. Its Austin and Dallas locations take part in a livestream that runs four times per week, TCH Live.

  • Three locations open 24/7 (Rio Grande Valley hours: 10:45 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily)
  • Membership: $10 daily, $30 monthly or $300 yearly (Each location requires a separate membership)
  • Club access fee: $12 hourly ($13 at the Dallas location)
  • Number of tables: Austin – 13; Dallas – 26; Houston – 20; Rio Grande Valley – 9
  • Daily tournaments
  • NL Hold’em and PL Omaha cash games at low, medium and high stakes

Poker House Dallas

With 30 tables, Poker House Dallas is on par with the largest rooms in the DFW Metroplex. It regularly streams cash games, even at $2/$5 for those who might want to get on the feature table without breaking the bank.

  • Open 24/7
  • Membership: $10 daily, $30 monthly or $300 yearly
  • Club access fees: $13 per hour, but discount packages are available at 5 hours for $55 and 20 hours for $200
  • Valet service, BYOB and food service with a new menu and executive chef coming in 2023
  • Daily tournaments and cash games

Shuffle 214 (Dallas)

Shuffle 214 is another room in the Dallas area worth mentioning. It has 31 tables and focuses on its daily tournaments, though cash games up to $2/$5 run regularly, too.

  • Open 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 24 hours on weekends
  • Membership: $10 daily, $30 monthly or $200 annually, not including seat fees
  • Seat fees: $12 per hour; no seat fees from 6 a.m. to noon.
  • Flat fee for tournaments
  • Daily tournaments and cash games

Shuffle 214 has a sister property in Austin with 12 tables called Shuffle 512.

101 Poker Club Richmond (Houston)

101 Poker Club Richmond reopened under new ownership, taking the place of the defunct Johnny Chan’s 88 Social Club in December 2021.

Local rounder and entrepreneur Saneej Vora bought the venue and has turned it into one of the more appealing venues in the Houston area, with over 60 tables of action.

  • Open 24/7
  • All players must obtain a membership to play, which is currently free. Active players also incur an hourly seat fee.
  • Cash games as high as $5/$5/$10 run regularly.
  • Daily tournaments with smaller stakes, often between $35 and $110
  • Other promotions include this winter’s new car race-off, which awards a 2023 Kia Seltos wagon to one lucky member and $500 to eight more qualifiers

Prime Social Club (Houston)

Houston’s Prime Social is one of the most established clubs in the state, best known for a stretch of successful tournament series during 2021 when many other casinos remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The room has 23 tables open on a regular basis.

  • Open 24/7
  • Membership: $12 per hour (currently free from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day)
  • Cash games up to $10/25 NL/PL and $20/40 Fixed Limit
  • Daily tournaments
  • Larger events run less frequently these days, though Prime Social is running a $600 buy-in event from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 with a $300,000 guaranteed prize pool.

Legends Poker Room (Houston)

Rounding out our trio of Houston poker clubs, Legends Poker Room sits in the same complex as 101 Poker Club Richmond.

With 23 tables, Legends boasts some of the best Pot-Limit Omaha action. You can find games as high as $25/$25/$50 PLO, though plenty of low-stakes NL Hold’em and PLO games also run around the clock.

Legends also has a history of multiple shootings either onsite or nearby.

  • Open 24/7
  • Membership: $12 per hour or 10 hours for $100
  • Free breakfast for all players from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
  • Free play from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for all $1/$3 games
  • Happy hour from noon to 7 p.m. daily: $3 beer, wine and well drinks

Rounders Card Club (San Antonio)

Let’s head further south for the final two rooms of this feature, starting with San Antonio’s Rounders Card Club.

Rounders is the city’s largest card room with 25 tables, offering NLH and PLO cash games and tournaments. Its first major tournament series, the South Texas Poker Championship, ran Nov. 7 to 21, with over $1.5 million in guarantees and a $1 million guaranteed Main Event.

A full-service bar, grill, barbershop and two golf swing simulators are also onsite.

  • Open 24/7
  • Membership: $5 daily, $50 monthly or $500 annually, plus a $20 initiation fee
  • Club access fee: $12 per hour
  • Cash games up to $10/$25
  • Daily tournaments and yearly tournament series

SA Card House (San Antonio)

SA Card House runs more than 10 tournaments each week, including a Saturday PLO event. The room has 13 tables, mostly with $1/$2 and $2/$5 games.

Its new location off US 281, just outside San Antonio, is known to have an inviting atmosphere with great staff and clientele.

  • Open 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 7 a.m. Thursday through Saturday
  • Membership: $5 daily or $40 monthly, plus a $50 initiation fee
  • Club access fee: $10 per hour
  • Smaller stakes, friendly environment
  • Daily tournaments
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing for PlayTexas.

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