Houston poker has become an enjoyable pastime for thousands of Texans who pay admission fees to compete for real money at private brick & mortar clubs that have sprung up throughout Harris County.

Yet the debate over the legality — and long term viability — of these poker rooms has made its way onto the TwoPlusTwo News, Views & Gossip board recently as activists on both sides plead their case before a worldwide audience.

Houston Poker at Freerolls Poker Club

Houston Poker Freerolls Poker Club

The controversy revolves around an upcoming WPT Deeptstacks “Season 5” tour stop (announced in mid-March) at the Freerolls poker club near Hobby Airport. Poker players in the area are looking forward to competing in the $1,000 buy-in event that will be accompanied by a $100 daily entry fee into the Freerolls Poker Club.

Proponents of the Houston poker business model claim that the land-based room is perfectly “legal” and does not break existing Texas prohibitions on real money gambling, but detractors say such establishments are being handled “clumsily” and are on borrowed time before they eventually get shut down by authorities.

Houston Poker Approved by Local Police?

On March 23rd, Freerolls representative Trent Daniel reached out to CardsChat contributor Chad Holloway to address the ongoing Houston poker controversy. According to Daniel, Houston Police Department vice officers took part in a private meeting with Freerolls CEO Charles Potter earlier this year, and informed the club that its business model “would be totally in compliance with the law.”

However, those claims have been disputed by Houston poker club opponent HTwnPokerGuy, who informed 2+2 readers that the “WPT Deepstacks tour stop in Houston is rumored to be in trouble because the host club apparently lied about an approval from Houston Police,” and that the club “might get sued for false advertising/securities fraud.”

READ: WPT Deepstacks Tourney in Texas Already in Trouble? (TwoPlusTwo NVG – Apr 22, 2018)

The original post was quickly rebuked by fellow 2+2 poster BulltexasATM, who responded that the critique was posted by a “shill” for Golden Nugget Hotel & Casinos owner Tilman Fertitta and the Stop Illegal Gambling Houston (SIGH) organization.

The private meeting claims made by Freerolls are no longer published on the club’s official website, and a handful of 2+2 contributors have since chimed-in to give their opinions on the legal status of Houston poker rooms.

“I’ve just seen this ‘don’t worry, it’s legal’ movie before in other jurisdictions,” reminded longtime forum poster Gzesh, while Thomas SrslySirius Keeling opined that “there’s an odd sort of naive smugness to thinking this is such a clever loophole.”

Houston Poker Debate Includes Post Oak Poker Club

Houston Poker Post Oak

A separate poker club in Houston has garnered attention within the TwoPlusTwo thread as well.

Post Oak Poker Club proprietor Daniel Kebort along with partner Bill Heuer manage a poker room in Houston’s prestigious “galleria” area that has drawn the ire of City Councilman Greg Travis and other local government officials.

The POPC’s business model is somewhat different from Freerolls in that the club charges hourly seat rentals on top of its admission fee, but the owners argue that the establishment still operates legally, albeit on a “narrow path for a business like ours.”

WATCH: Texas Poker Rooms Teeter on Razor’s Edge (ABC 13 Eyewitness News – Apr 6, 2018)

The battle over Houston poker rooms — along with many similar businesses throughout the Lone Star State — has been ongoing for years, and took center stage during an August 15, 2017 Houston City Council Meeting in which Kebort brought his case before local lawmakers.

(Timestamp 38:50 under the “Public Speakers” section)

During the meeting, POPC owner Kebort advised the Council that he has spent years lobbying on behalf of poker rooms in Texas, but a follow-up rebuttal from Councilman Travis suggests that the physical location of the club is what has sparked the controversy.

Greg Travis Houston Poker

Houston City Council Member Greg Travis (District G)

“I know why you’re on Post Oak,” Council Member Travis told Kebort. “You’re on Post Oak because you want to have status.”

Travis then reminded the POPC operator of a meeting that took place before the Post Oak Poker Club opened its doors in the local galleria commercial area. “I let you know how I felt. I don’t want it in my district. I don’t want it on Post Oak.”

Councilman Travis would go on to say that he is not against poker or gambling, but that he simply doesn’t want a private real money poker club in his district.

Houston Poker Clubs (Analysis of Lobbying Efforts)

* All analysis belongs solely to the author.

The legality of Houston poker rooms debate is an interesting one for all poker fans, as it highlights the issues surrounding formal licensing of the skill-based card game in a statewide and/or municipal regulatory environment.

As several posters pointed out in the 2+2 forum thread, poker games along with traditional casino gambling offerings have historically been shut down by government officials in cases where no formal regulation exists.

The debate also shows the difficulties involved with poker lobbyist activities on a local level, and leads interested parties to ponder whether future poker lobbying will be segmented on a case-by-case basis — rather than on a national level through organizations such as the Poker Players Alliance.

Poker activists may be adamant that the game should be legalized in all markets in which demand for real money poker play exists, but statewide and municipal debates related to licensing, tax rates, authorized locations and fees must be determined specifically by constituents within those jurisdictions. This in turn results in natural gaps in lobbying stances that are best settled by individuals (stakeholders and opponents alike) in those states and cities who have 100% relevancy among those governmental bodies.

It is highly unlikely that this dispute or similar controversies surrounding the legality of brick & mortar poker clubs would ultimately be led by a national organization such as the PPA, and even less likely that local activists on either side would allow such a lobbyist group to influence rhetoric within those regions — as those poker club stakeholders (and their opponents) are both uniquely aware of the Houston landscape as it relates to real money poker games, corresponding legislation, and the wishes of local constituents.

Part Time Poker will keep an eye on this story ahead of the WPT Deepstacks event at Freerolls Poker Club (scheduled for this September), and inform our readers if there are any significant updates.

Read More Poker Legislation Content from David Huber:

New York Online Poker Bill FAQs (S3898/A5250) (Apr 10, 2018)
Michigan Regulated iGaming Study Guide (Feb 6, 2018)
Pressure Mounts for U.S. Federal Online Gambling Ban (Nov 28, 2017)
Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Signed into Law by Gov. Tom Wolf (Oct 30, 2017)

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