Several Dallas City Council members spoke in favor of poker clubs Wednesday, even as they approved more money for lawyers who’ve been fighting to close them.
Three clubs operate openly in Dallas despite Texas laws against gambling.
The owners of Texas Card House on Harry Hines Boulevard near I-635 LBJ Freeway invited NBC 5 inside in 2021 to see how it only sells memberships, snacks and soft drinks, employs dealers and other workers and is very popular.
Councilman Chad West led a discussion on the issue Wednesday.
“If you shut down the legal card houses, we could go back to the days of illegal ones that are not regulated,” West said. “We could kill an industry that provides jobs and revenue to the city.”
West spoke in favor of paying legal fees for work already done by outside lawyers who were hired because of conflicting city attorney positions.
But West also wanted city staff to draft rules that would allow poker clubs to operate away from single-family neighborhoods if courts and new laws allow them. All three Dallas clubs are in commercial areas, some distance from homes.
“This is Dallas. We’re supposed to be a city that is pro-business and business friendly. This motion, if it’s adopted by council, flips the script here,” West said.
Two public speakers at the meeting said poker clubs should be shut down.
“These establishments cannot be regulated. You cannot regulate what is illegal,” said Tom DuPree with the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance.
Residents in DuPree’s Bent Tree North neighborhood stopped another proposed poker club that had planned to open in 2021 at the former Three Forks Restaurant location on the Dallas North Tollway.
That portion of far North Dallas is also in Collin County. The Collin County District Attorney said poker rooms are illegal. The City of Dallas declined an occupancy permit request for that location.
The poker club operators claim they have a loophole in Texas law. They claim to be private clubs and not gambling establishments because they do not receive profit from the card games.
The Dallas City Attorney initially agreed with that position. Texas Card House and another club, Shuffle 214 on East Northwest Highway, were granted certificates of occupancy by the City of Dallas.
Later the city sued to revoke them, deciding the initial position was an error.
“I don’t agree with how this process went or how we did it. I do adamantly believe that we are suing ourselves and we are wasting taxpayer dollars,” Councilman Omar Narvaez said.
Amid this poker debate, other legal issues and a pending review of his performance, City Attorney Chris Caso announced his retirement on Jan. 19.
“Our city attorney has been diligent in trying to remedy the situation and should be applauded for doing so,” DuPree said.
Assistant City Attorney Tammy Palomino was appointed Interim Dallas city attorney Wednesday. She appeared at the meeting in the city attorney’s seat and explained the current position of city officials against the club permits.
“They were illegal operations and they have an obligation under the ordinance to revoke them,” Palomino said.
A third poker club, Poker House Dallas on Regal Row, operated formerly as a cabaret and switched to a poker club without a new certificate of occupancy, Palomino said.
A judge ruled the other two clubs are illegal but they remain open pending appeals.
“It’s never a good strategy for our body to be morality police and that’s the route that we’re going,” Councilman Adam Bazaldua said.
Although several Dallas council members said they’d like to see the clubs remain open, the final say will come from courts or state lawmakers.
Supporters are pushing casinos or gambling law changes in the Texas Legislature this year.