Texas lawmaker Gene Wu (D-Houston) told PokerNews in an interview that his intentions aren’t to ban poker in the state, but instead leave it up to individual counties to determine legality.
PokerNewsand other media outlets, reported last week that House Bill 732sponsored by Wu, if passed, would close the loophole that allows poker rooms to operate under a social club model despite gambling being illegal in Texas. That information, as we’re told, was incorrect but it wasn’t the fault of the media.
“The reporting was correct based on what we had filed,” Wu said.
In Texas, poker rooms operate as membership clubs where players pay annual or monthly membership fees and daily or hourly seat fees to play. They do so because it would be unquestionably illegal for the business to take rake. Even so, there are many who believe the social club model is illegal based on the confusing wording of the law, which states that gambling must occur in a “private place.”
“We’re supportive of full legalized gambling across the state,” the Democratic politician said.
Texas Poker Bill’s Purpose
As we reported last week, HB 732 would amend Texas Penal Code 47.04 to replace “place” with “residence.” That caused the Dallas Observer, and then the poker media, to report that Wu is trying to shut down the card rooms. Instead, as he explained, he made an error in how the bill was filed and they will be clarifying it soon in a resubmitted bill to accurately reflect his true intentions, which are to have poker regulated at the county level.
Two years ago, Wu proposed HB 770, a measure that would classify poker as a game of skill rather than chance and regulate poker in large counties. That bill never progressed and, as Wu explained, legalizing gambling across Texas would be difficult, if not impossible, given the state’s longstanding anti-gambling stance.
“It’s a legal gray area,” Wu said of the current poker laws in Texas. “The interpretation of what ‘private’ means from jurisdiction to jurisdiction changes. So you could be in one county and they could be perfectly legal and they don’t care, and you move across county lines and all of a sudden you’re a criminal. In a place like Harris County where we have about 28 different law enforcement jurisdictions, that definition could change in a one-city block.”
Wu said he’s concerned with the current wording of the law because it leaves the door open for corruption. He explained that all it wouldn’t take much for a city or county to reverse course on the local interpretation of poker laws.
“Houston’s interpretation right now is that it’s legal, but if we have a new mayor and a new police chief who says, ‘my interpretation is different,’ that could change, and that’s a really bad way to operate,” Wu stated.
Rep. Wu explained that his purpose for proposing HB 732 isn’t to determine if “private place” refers specifically to a residence or if it also applies to a business. Instead, he wants individual counties to determine legality, and then if they choose to support poker, to conduct extensive background checks on the card room owners and ensure dealers are licensed.
House Bill 732 is not intended to change the state’s gambling laws either, however. Collecting rake, even in counties where poker is legal, would still be a crime. That means the current social club model would still be required of these businesses.
HB 732 May Not Even Be Necessary
Texas Card Housewhich operates four poker clubs across the Lone Star State, is in the midst of a lengthy battle to remain open with the city of Dallas.
As we reported earlier this yearthe case is likely to eventually end up in the Texas Supreme Court. If it does, and TCH CEO Ryan Crow expects that to happen, Wu’s proposed bill might not have any relevance. That is because the highest court in the state could make an official ruling on Texas Penal Code Chapter 47, and determine once and for all if poker is or isn’t legal under any type of business model.
Judge Rules Against Texas Card House
Wu, a Chinese-born American who entered office in 2013, said that, “realistically, if I had my way, I would not pass an individual bill to do this. I would be passing a comprehensive legalization of gambling across the state.”
The state rep doesn’t want to target poker rooms such as Texas Card House who operate in good faith. He’s more concerned with preventing the “bad actors” who don’t follow the law from running gambling establishments in Texas.