Texas Legislature Debates Legalization Of Poker
The game of Texas Hold 'Em is, oddly enough, not legal (at least not in public raked games) in the state that gave the game its name. The rash of arrests of raked games and tournaments in several cities in Texas proves this beyond a doubt. This could be changing, however, after action this week in the Texas Legislature.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures held public hearings on House Bill 3186, which was written and submitted by Rep. Jose Menendez from San Antonio. The bill (which was put together with another bill regarding charitable poker games) would legalize cash games and tournaments in Texas, provided that all licensing and approvals from the state were in place. It would allow there to be card room operations on the level of what California has, although not nearly at the size of their Western brethren.
The hearings brought out major players in the poker industry to testify at the hearings. The founder of the World Poker Tour, Poker Hall of Fame member Lyle Berman, was there to testify as were professional players Crandell Addington (a legendary player in his own right), Clonie Gowen and 2006 World Series of Poker final table player Michele Lewis (all Texas natives), Poker Players Alliance president Michael Bolcerek and many local players who filled the conference room to view the testimony. Perhaps the toughest thing was, however, actually getting the hearing to start!
The hearing was scheduled to begin at 2PM, but was delayed while the Legislature worked on the floor debating other issues. This allowed the people supporting the bill, however, to meet nearby and discuss the proposed bill. "This would be great for the people of Texas," Lewis stated to me while we waited. "The way things currently are, there isn't any protection for the players. You could possibly not receive your winnings, face the possibility of being robbed because of the lack of security and many other problems. This bill would set areas up for poker that would eliminate these issues." Another interested party was Vernon Harrison, the president of the Texas Card Players Association. "We are excited to see this bill get the hearing that it deserves. It is long overdue in this day and age and it would be a great day if it can be passed."
There are a couple of interesting parts of HB 3186. One area of the bill that was discussed in the poker players "war room" was the possibility of using electronic tables, such as the ones provided by PokerTek, in what would be card rooms. This would eliminate the expenses of paraphernalia (such as dealers, chips, cards, etc.) from the cost and would also allow for the quick reporting of the state's cut in taxes which, according to the way the bill is written, has to be done daily by 5PM. It would also eliminate the possibility of cheating, which is something that could possibly concern the elected officials. The second interesting part was how the state of Texas would use the income created from the legislation. According to the bill, it would initially be used for homeless programs but could also be divvied up and help the state in many other areas.
The hearing got started approximately four hours late and there was passionate testimony from the poker community in the hearing room. Only one person was there to debate the opposing side, who argued that poker is a game of luck and not a skill game. The committee, for the most part, seemed to be willing to pass the bill through the group and would then potentially put it on the agenda for a vote by the Texas Legislature, but more public hearings have to be held yet. As the current legislative session is more than half over, it is unknown when the bill could be passed out of committee and head to the full Legislature during this session.
After the long day (and night) of the hearing, possibly the best part of the effort was the outpouring of support for the bill by the poker community. From the "big guns" who showed up for the event to the everyday players (both young and old), the poker community was quite vocal in their support HB 3186. Perhaps more states could look into legislation such as this, rather than the alternative of expensive and time consuming law enforcement investigations and raids of card games for minimal profit. In the coming months, however, there is a true possibility that the home of Texas Hold 'Em could change their rules and allow the game in the future.