The Texas Card House is anything but flashy. When you step inside the Harry Hinds Boulevard location, the last thing that comes to mind is that you are in a Vegas-style casino. That’s probably because it’s not nearly as fancy. Sure, the walls have big-screen televisions that spend most days set at sports channels, but there is no bar, no buffet table, or a sea of slot machines to navigate to get to the poker tables.
All you will find is a couple of dozen or more semicircular tables where four to six players sit at each focused on their poker hands. This is the Texas Card House. It was granted a permit to operate two years ago by the city council and now things have changed. The very government that allowed the poker room to open is now trying to shut it down along with other above-ground poker rooms in the city.
Their move? An attempt at revoking the certificate of occupancy held by each operator.
A Bit O’ History
It was in early 2020 when Dallas City Council approved the first legal poker room for the community. It was Texas Card House. It was almost an instant hit. Players who visit legal poker rooms in the city must pay a membership fee along with an hourly fee. Each site has a floor manager that is present to deal with any circumstance that a dealer can’t. According to the CEO of Texas Card House, Ryan Crow, “We knew when we opened it was going to be busy. But we didn’t know how big some of the games would be. When we do a tournament, people fly internationally.”
Then the pandemic hit.
Depending on what state you lived in, COVID protocols varied but there was one that eventually swept the nation – the closure of indoor venues that hosted crowds of people. Casinos and poker rooms from Las Vegas to Atlantic City and beyond were shuttered for what was to be just weeks. In some states, these venues slowly reopened with capacity limits. Others remained closed indefinitely.
Regulars at the Texas Card House had two options. They could try their luck at online casinos that were suddenly springing up everywhere, or they could take their chances at an underground poker room hidden somewhere in the city. According to Shomari Williams, a 38-year old frequent poker player at the Texas Card House, “All of the rooms had shut down. The casinos had stopped playing poker. I was like, great, here I was with this great opportunity to start pushing my poker career forward and then COVID happened and I couldn’t play anywhere. That’s when the underground games started pulling people in because there really was nowhere else to play.”
In December 2021, the owners of Texas Card House received a notice from the City of Dallas. In it, it stated that their permit was no longer valid for “keeping a gambling place.” According to City Council member Cara Mendelsohn, “The City of Dallas’ building official has revoked the certificate of occupancy for all poker rooms. All can be appealed. The issue is that poker rooms are illegal under Texas law. At some point, there will be a lawsuit, either the operator suing the city or the city suing the operator, or Texas will legalize gambling.”
Not All City Council Members Support The Move
Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez did not like the idea of revoking the permits stating, “I think it’s unfair that all of a sudden all of these certificates of occupancy for all these card rooms have suddenly been revoked. Unfortunately, our city attorney has decided to change the idea of what he believes constitutes card rules according to the law.”
The Next Move
An appeal is in the works at Texas Card House. The goal is to get their certificate of occupancy restored. There is a backup plan if that doesn’t work – a lawsuit. However, Dallas City Council has played the Crime Card several times already and has a fair deal of paperwork to support that argument. The city’s underground poker rooms tend to attract a violent element and police have spent a lot of time sorting out situations involving many criminal activities.
However, the argument falls on deaf ears when compared to legal poker rooms. Many players prefer the legal sites simply because they are run differently. Regulars at the Texas Card House state that they feel safer there than at an underground venue. Some even say they prefer legal rooms as the risk of getting arrested during a raid is far lower.
Where The Money Goes
Another consideration Dallas City Council seems to skim over is that when all the legal rooms are closed, players gravitate to the underground rooms. The underground rooms then make the money that won’t be going to local business owners. Ultimately, the underground poker rooms are not subject to taxes so the city loses out on a stream of income.
Without that additional source of revenue, the city will not be spending it on such things as infrastructure improvements or beautification projects – things that benefit the community as a whole and not just aiding those who are contributing to the income stream. Legal poker rooms provide a lot of money to the city through taxation.
Will the Texas Card House reopen? It’s anyone’s guess how their appeal will go. On the assumption that the city turns it down, then it will be up to the courts to decide if granting permits to legalize poker rooms was such a good idea in the first place in a state with gambling is illegal. It could be a long and drawn-out process. That is unless the State of Texas decides that maybe legalizing gambling in some forms wouldn’t be such a bad idea with the state getting a piece of the action. Other states that have legalized gambling recently have reaped many benefits from the extra source of revenue at the state level.