Dallas Wrestles with Poker House Legality


Dealer shuffles poker cards | Image by Anton27

As the City of Dallas continues to ante up for ongoing lawsuits over local poker clubs, the city council has directed staff to explore options that would allow the businesses to continue to operate.

The city council authorized up to $600,000 for previously rendered services related to two legal cases between Dallas’ chief building official, Andrew Espinoza, and the City’s Board of Adjustment, as they argue over whether Shuffle 214 and Texas Card House are illegally operating.

The Board of Adjustment is “a fifteen-member citizen board … appointed by the City Council to hear and take appropriate action on variations to Development Code regulations, on appeal from decisions of the Building Official made in the enforcement of the Development Code, and on termination of non-conforming uses.”

This intra-city legal battle began after the previous chief building official, David Session, revoked the certificates of occupancy (CO) that had been given to the businesses. The Board of Adjustment objected to the decision, voting to reverse it.

The Board’s vote to reinstate the COs led Sessions to begin litigation. Because two city departments were suing each other, outside legal firms had to be hired by the City with taxpayer funds for both parties.

The Board of Adjustment and the card houses argued that the COs were properly granted on a belief that poker clubs do not violate Texas laws against gambling because the establishments do not take a portion of any winnings, or a “rake,” as it is commonly called.

However, District Judge Eric Moye ruled against Texas Card House and the Board of Adjustment in October, finding that the Board “abused its discretion and made an illegal decision,” claiming the CO “was issued in violation of state law.” The case is currently being appealed, with the matter expected to make its way to the Texas Supreme Court.

During the meeting on January 25, District 1’s Councilmember Chad West moved to approve the funding for the legal expenses and to “direct staff to explore a legal land use for a private game club and consider protections for neighborhoods, including possible perimeter restrictions.”

In the discussion on the motion, West noted, “For this item, we are basically suing ourselves,” suggesting that it would be a better use of city resources to find a way for the businesses to continue operating as they do in other Texas cities.

West’s motion to have the city staff explore additional options passed overwhelmingly.

Councilmember West told The Dallas Express that he supports efforts “to make card rooms legal, or to make them have a path to operate without the sort of legal hurdles that they’re facing right now.”

“I believe they’re legal right now,” he added, “but the way the penal code is written has caused problems in Dallas for them to have ongoing operations.”

“Ultimately, the penal code, which is controlled by the state legislature, is going to have to change to make it viable for them to continue operating without these continued lawsuits and cities trying to shut them down,” West continued.

Councilmember West expressed concern that if Dallas were to ban card houses, it would “push them back underground to where the criminal element can once again rise up.

“It’s surprising to me that in a state that is so pro-business and in a city that claims to be pro-business, we’ve made it so hard for these operations to survive,” West added, highlighting as well that Texas Card House alone paid more than $1 million in taxes to the City previously.

However, not all share West’s perspective, and Dallas residents spoke against the card houses during the recent city council meeting.

Thomas DuPree, representing Bent Tree North HOA and North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance, said in public comment, “We all want to express our collective resolve to ensure that funding should continue to uphold the laws of Texas, especially those that affect our neighborhood integrity and sanctity.

“Other cities that have failed to uphold the integrity of law have not fared too well,” DuPree claimed. “The damages to a neighborhood that may have a nearby poker club go well beyond the values of safety and neighborhood values.

“The economic hardships that would be placed on a neighborhood like the ones I represent would be significant,” he continued. “Just a 10% reduction of home value would result in a real loss of over $50 million.”

DuPree concluded, “These establishments are illegal … You cannot regulate what is illegal.”

The North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance, which represents over 40 HOAs in North Dallas, further commented to The Dallas Express, “We feel Poker Clubs, if legalized, should not be allowed to operate anywhere near Residential areas, Churches, or Schools; furthermore, the application process to allow a Poker Club to operate should include hearings for community input.”

Additional resistance to permitting the card houses to resume operations was offered by Russ Coleman, who represented Texans Against Gambling.

No matter the city’s response, the legal implications of the lawsuits could impact card houses across the state depending upon the decision of the Texas Supreme Court — if the cases should reach that chamber.

If you enjoyed this article, please support us today!

Formed in 2021, we provide fact-based, non-partisan news. The Dallas Express is a non-profit organization funded by charitable support and advertising.

Please join us on the important journey to make Dallas a better place!

We welcome and appreciate comments on The Dallas Express as part of a healthy dialogue. We do ask that you be kind. Kind to each other and to everyone else in your comments. For more information, please refer to our Complete Comment Moderation Policy.

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments