Texas AG Keeps Poker Face, Declines to Offer Opinion on Controversial Lone Star State Poker Clubs

Posted on: July 12, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: July 12, 2018, 01:29h.

If Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has an opinion on the legality of poker in his state, he’s not giving away any tells. 

Lone Star State Attorney General Ken Paxton, left, is staying out of the poker club debate in Texas. (Image: Houston Chronicle/Casino.org)

When given the chance, the state’s top legal adviser declined to offer an assessment on the legal status of the dozens of poker rooms which operate under a murky area of Texas law. As a result of Paxton’s deferral, those rooms will remain open, for as long as local law enforcement allows, until state courts can clear up the situation.

Some local politicians are convinced the rooms are illegal and have been plenty vociferous about it, but Texas’ head prosecutor us remaining mum.

Sitting This One Out

In the course of a lawsuit between two private poker clubs, the attorney general was asked to offer a response.

Paxton was presented with a straightforward question on the matter by State Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria):

“Are poker gambling enterprises that charge membership or other fees or receive other compensation from gamblers playing poker — but do not receive a ‘rake’ — permitted under Texas law?”

Paxton’s office responded by saying that the lawsuit prevents the AG from offering an opinion.

“Our agency has a longstanding policy of not issuing an opinion on an issue we know to be the subject of pending litigation,” wrote Virginia Hoelscher, chair of Paxton’s opinion committee, according to Texas CBS affiliate KHOU.

On June 26, the Austin Card Room filed suit against the SA Card House, alleging that the latter business is skirting Texas law, thereby creating an unfair competitive advantage. It wants the courts to clear up the muddy legalities surrounding the 30 or so Texas card rooms once and for all.

Most of the clubs have tiptoed around Texas law by charging entry fees and seat rentals for their poker tables, rather than taking a rake. The rake is a percentage of the pot which is collected by game operators. It’s how the majority of poker rooms turn a profit, but the practice has been illegal in Texas for 75 years.

Club operators in the state insist they make no money off of poker games themselves, which is a key distinction.  

Speaking His Mind

Paxton’s previously put his foot down on the possibility of daily fantasy sports (DFS) in Texas. He strongly opined that DFS games were explicitly illegal because, unlike in other states, Texas law only requires that a game have an element of “partial chance” to be banned. 

The AG has also been leading the fight against an electronic bingo hall being operated by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. The tribe contends that it can operate the bingo games, because its facility is located on sovereign land. Paxton would see the facility shut down, however, and wants fines of $10,000 to be levied for every day the hall remains open.

Despite losing a key court decision in February, the tribe is appealing the ruling and continues to operate.