El Paso Poker Room Opens As Legal Questions Remain In Texas

Written By TJ McBride on March 1, 2023
Poker room opens in El Paso as legality debate heats up in Texas

A new poker room in El Paso is open for players to come and enjoy some cards. It’s the first commercial card room in El Paso.

House of Kings is utilizing the same model that card rooms across Texas follow, requiring a membership to enter instead of the house taking a rake from games. Whether Texas authorities will continue allowing these gambling venues remains to be seen.

House of Kings co-owner says house not taking rake makes business legal

Poker rooms in Texas are technically illegal. Despite that, there are several dozen across the state. A final determination on their legality could come from pending court cases or from legislation working its way through the Texas Capitol.

House of Kings co-owner Julio Morales argues that his business is legal because the house does not take a rake.

“A casino will rake,” Morales told KTSM-TV. “… We do not receive an economical benefit from the game being played, which is how the game is regulated here in Texas.”

Like most other card rooms in Texas, players pay fees to become club members. All the money won and lost in the poker games goes to the members, not the business. This model makes the business legal in Texas, according to operators.

Some law enforcement officials and Texas lawmakers don’t see it that way. They contend that collecting a rake is only one way card rooms benefit economically. They also benefit by charging for concessions, seat fees and membership fees.

El Paso poker players happy to have a place to play

Regardless of the poker room’s legality, House of Kings has had a successful opening. It hosted a Texas Hold ‘em tournament that drew hundreds of participants at the end of January. The winner took home $49,700.

Some House of Kings members are happy to have a safe, clean place to play their favorite card games. One of those is Janet Lindstrom. She told KTSM-TV that she previously did not have access to public poker tournaments in her area. With House of Kings, she said she found exactly what she was looking for.

“It was the only place I knew to come in El Paso where they had legal poker,” Lindstrom said. “A lot of people played at home games, but I did not know anybody at a home game, so when this opened, I was excited to come and play poker.”

Experienced poker players such Troy Bolata hope membership continues to grow at House of Kings.

“We have young guys, 19-20, so even the young kids these days, you know, the young school wizards, they like playing poker, so, you know, it is just growing and growing because that is what we need: players,” Bolata told KTSM-TV. “We need people for prize pools, and eventually players are what keeps the games going.”

Dallas looking to keep card rooms operating

Some Texas cities are searching for ways to keep poker rooms in operation.

For example, the Dallas City Council recently voted to have city staff work with the city attorney to create a new land-use category for card rooms. There will be restrictions on location and what games must be present in the business, but it’s the beginning of a framework to keep the card room doors open.

According to Council Member Chad West, regulating card rooms will keep them from proliferating underground in residential neighborhoods, where they become havens for crime.

“This is Dallas. We are supposed to be a city that is pro-business,” West said. “This motion, if it is adopted by council, flips the script here. The intent is to direct staff to spend its time and energy in a positive way to generate revenue for public safety, parks, and all the things we love, and provide a safe, regulated place for this industry to survive away from neighborhoods.”

Another reason West wants to keep the card rooms in operation is that they provide tax revenue.

“Just last year, Texas Card House (a card room in Dallas) provided over $1.1 million in property and sales tax revenue,” he said.

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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver, Colorado who covers the Denver Nuggets as a beat writer and the current gaming landscape in Texas. His byline can be found across many websites such as ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report, and others.

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