While live poker is now legal across much of the country, the status of poker in Texas is still fuzzy. It appears to lie in a nebulous grey area, much like online poker prior to Black Friday all those years ago. Last week when we published an article on the five best places to live if you love poker, several people reached out to advocate for poker in Texas. The strong response made us re-think our previous avoidance of the Lone Star state, and to investigate the situation.
Is There Legal Poker in Texas?
According to the Texas State Law Library “Because Texas laws on gambling are complex, determining whether or not a particular poker game is being conducted legally can prove challenging.” Additionally, statutes vary across Texas from county to county. Over the past several years, a number of poker clubs which charge membership and a “seat rental fee” rather than taking a rake have arisen across the state. They exploit a legal loophole around the definition of profiting from gambling. While there have been some high profile cases in which rooms have been shut down, these poker rooms have largely been allowed to operate without interference.
So where does that leave poker in Texas? If you want to stay 100% within the bounds of the law, you can visit the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass Texas. Kickapoo boasts a 12 table poker room (temporarily closed). As in other states with restrictive gambling laws, Native American reservation casinos are allowed to operate in Texas. While there are three Native American casinos in the state, Kickapoo is the only operation offering poker. If you live near Dallas, you will also find that some large casinos are within a few hours’ drive. Oklahoma and Louisiana host a number of casinos frequented by Texans in search of legal poker.
Interestingly, online poker is legal in Texas, as are home games if they adhere to a strict set of rules. There are thus more options for legal poker in Texas than in many other states (such as our own state of Massachusetts) where neither home games nor online poker are within the law.
And that grey area? Well, as a player in Texas, the risk you take on visiting a poker club appears not to be very high. Playing live poker in Texas is considered a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time as of this writing. (Disclaimer: We are not lawyers, simply poker loving bloggers. Consult your own attorney before endeavoring to play club poker in the state of Texas). The few Texas authorities that have chosen to address poker have focused on those businesses offering live poker. To date, they have left players alone. However, much like online poker before 2011, buyer beware. Having been through the Full Tilt experience, we can attest that it is no fun when the music stops and you are abruptly separated from your winnings.
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Poker Clubs in Texas
In 2015, exploiting a loophole in the state’s gambling laws poker clubs began opening in Texas. There are now close to 30 poker social clubs in Texas. As mentioned above, these rooms circumvent Texas gambling law by signing potential players up for memberships (ranging from $5 to $20 per day) and then charging a per hour fee (generally around $10-$15) to “rent” their seat. Some rooms add an additional one-time fee ($10-$20) to “join” the club in addition to the membership and daily fees. Many clubs have monthly or annual membership fees at a much lower rate (i.e. $200/year).
Tournaments feature a tournament add-on for seat rental, so you are not charged more for lasting longer in the tournament. It is also illegal in Texas to tip with poker chips. So any tips (to the dealer or waitstaff) must be in cash. In our research we actually found a couple of poker clubs which ban tipping completely.
Room sizes range from very small (5 tables) to 30 tables at 52 Social in Houston. Many rooms offer food and beverages along with the opportunity to play poker. Others allow you to BYOB and will keep your drinks cold for you. Some rooms also offer other amenities such as pool or darts, and of course the obligatory large TVs for watching sporting events.
Many of Texas’ poker clubs are in and around Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. You can also find the occasional room elsewhere in the state. There is only one 12-table room near Dallas. This is likely due to the ease of crossing the border to play in larger venues in Oklahoma.What's up with poker in Texas anyway?Click To Tweet
Finding Poker in Texas
So you’ve decided to play at a poker club in Texas. How do you find one? Bravo Poker does not cover poker in Texas at all. PokerAtlas, meanwhile, has coverage of about 16 of the state’s card rooms. Poker Pilgrims to the rescue! We have recently added to our Map of US Poker Rooms all rooms of ten tables or more covered by PokerAtlas along with a couple more that we came across in our research. We will continue to add Texas poker rooms to our map as we learn of them. Please contact us (info at pokerpilgrims dot com) if you know of a poker club with 10+ tables missing from our map.
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