Dallas Zoning Decision Puts Cardroom Legality In Question

Written By Phil West on March 6, 2024
Dealer moving chips on poker table for story on zoning decision questioning legality of cardrooms in Dallas

Cardrooms might soon regain legal status in Dallas, but the effort wasn’t helped by the city’s Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee.

That body recently declined to offer a recommendation to city planners concerning regulations the city drafted to protect cardrooms.

Despite that, the Dallas Planning Commission and City Council are expected to vote soon on whether to allow cardrooms to operate legally in the city.

Councilman still optimistic despite decision by zoning committee

Texas cardrooms aren’t explicitly legal or illegal. While there are laws that cardrooms could run afoul of, they have operated in the Lone Star State for years. Most, according to Dallas City Councilman Chad West, “attempt to operate in ways that satisfy key conditions necessary for a successful defense against prosecution under existing statutes.”

West, who has championed the issue for more than a year, told PlayTexas on March 6 that it’s still possible for cardrooms to become legal again in Dallas, even without the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee’s (ZOAC) stamp of approval.

“My understanding is that ZOAC moved the item along to the Plan Commission based on the group’s lack of understanding of the legal parameters involved here. Unlike that subcommittee, the Plan Commission will benefit from legal advice from the City Attorney’s Office in combing through the proposed use category.”

West said he believes at least one planning commissioner will work to convince his commission colleagues to approve the new land-use regulations on cardrooms.

Dispute began after decision by Dallas City Attorney’s Office

The Dallas dispute stems from an interpretation of existing laws by the Dallas City Attorney’s Office. Since January 2023, West has been looking to reconcile the issue to allow cardrooms to legally operate in the city. He notes that since he took up the issue, “city staff has reluctantly drafted and presented a use category to help legitimate cardroom operators to re-establish their footholds in our city.”

West outlined the issue in December.

“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 cardrooms. 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.”

Beyond cardrooms in Dallas gaining legal status, West would like to see the state legalize gambling. In fact, the Dallas City Council is considering joining an effort calling on the Texas Legislature to take action on the issue when it reconvenes in 2025.

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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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