Are poker clubs legal in Texas?
Kind of. At least they’re legal enough to make the Austin-based Texas Card House want to open a location in Fort Worth, at 6399 Camp Bowie Blvd. , in a retail strip anchored by Tom Thumb and Stein Mart.
Sam Von Kennel, the owner of Texas Card House, said he and his company have been looking to expand their operations outside of Austin for years now. Ever since they opened the original club in 2015, they’ve wanted to bring their success elsewhere.
“We know that the marketplace exists,” Von Kennel said. “We’re not the only club in the state anymore. We’re watching the demand, we’re seeing there’s a demand for such clubs.”
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Gambling is illegal in Texas, but there are exceptions. According to the Texas Penal Code, gambling is OK as long as it takes place in a private location, as long as no one gets rich off of gambling other than the winning itself and as long as the chances of winning are the same for all participants.
These provisions cover a private game someone might have among friends in their own home, but Texas Card House says its venture is covered as well. The card house is a private club that works much like a country club. Members pay fees to join the club and access fees whenever they want to play. The card house doesn’t take a cut of the winnings. Additionally, since it’s not a casino, there is no house advantage, so the chances of winning are the same for all the players.
Poker, however, isn’t the only activity at the Texas Card House. There are also pool tables and a sports lounge. The card house is also BYOB, so it doesn’t sell alcohol, but it’s also a place to host parties.
“One thing I always like to say, it’s not just a room of people playing poker — it’s a social club,” Von Kennel said.
Social club or not, city officials are skeptical.
At the zoning commission meeting Wednesday, the commission unanimously voted to suggest the Fort Worth City Council reject their zoning application. Councilman Brian Byrd, who represents the area where the card house wants to open, said he plans to vote against the application comes before the city council on April 2.
“I don’t like gambling,” Byrd said. “I don’t want a gambling house in my district or anywhere in the city because of what it attracts.”
Though it doesn’t look good for the card house at the moment, Von Kennel said he and his partners are still hoping to move forward in Fort Worth, but he’s also a little frustrated by the negative connotation of gambling.
“When people think of gambling, they’re not going to think of poker,” Von Kennel said. “I think the biggest problem is when my poker club gets tagged as a gambling room, it casts an unfair light on what we’re doing.”