Dallas official sues Citizens Council for allowing poker club to stay open

Dallas’ top building inspection official is suing a city citizens’ council for allowing a poker club to continue operating after the city tried to shut down the business.

David Session, the city’s acting building official, is seeking an order from a Dallas County judge to overturn a March decision of a adjustment city council this allows Texas Card House to remain open as the city now considers all poker clubs illegal under state law, despite having previously approved the businesses to operate.

Members of the Board of Adjustment disagreed with city officials’ decision to revoke the Texas Card House occupancy certificate during an appeal hearing. Board members said state law and the poker club’s business model have not changed since the city licensed the group to operate, and the city has not presented any outside opinions. to support his change of position.

“Defendant’s Board of Adjustment decision was unlawful and constituted an abuse of power because the Board of Adjustment acted arbitrarily, unreasonably and without reference to guiding principles,” the lawsuit said. The legal challenge was filed last month.

Lawyers Andy Messer, who represents the adjustment board, and Tom Brandt, who represents Session, did not immediately return messages for comment on Wednesday.

Dave Neumann, chairman of the board, declined to comment. He is a former city council member and was one of five board members who voted to overturn the city’s revocation of Texas Card House’s certificate of occupancy.

Both parties are represented by lawyers who do not work for the city. Dallas pays the firm representing Session. It’s not immediately clear whether the city is also paying for legal representation from the adjustment board.

Gambling is illegal in Texas, including wagering money or anything of value on any game played with cards, dice, balls or other devices. But it’s legal if the games are held in a private place, if no one receives any economic benefit other than personal winnings, and if all players have an equal chance of winning, except for the advantage of the game. individual skill or luck.

Since poker is a game of skill, proponents argue, it doesn’t fall under explicit play. Poker businesses were allowed to operate legally across the state by charging membership or access fees to customers instead of collecting money from games directly. Profits for businesses and employees come from membership fees, food and beverages served, and cash tips. The companies say the winnings players give directly to workers do not violate the law, as tips are not mandatory and they are free to spend their winnings as they see fit.

But ambiguity in a section of the law about who is and is not allowed to receive financial benefits from gambling is one of the main issues in dispute between some cities, like Dallas, and the operators.

Dallas building officials have approved certificates of occupancy for Texas Card House in northwest Dallas near Farmers Branch and at least two other poker businesses since 2020. Officials said they have re-examined the state gambling law and claimed that they improperly allowed poker businesses to operate because they misunderstood the rules.

The city’s position now is that poker clubs are illegal. Last year, building officials revoked certificates of occupancy from businesses they had previously approved and denied applications from other poker clubs seeking to open in Dallas.

The city now faces three lawsuits in Dallas County District Court challenging their interpretation that poker rooms violate the Texas gambling ban.

Since last year, separate panels of the Dallas Board of Adjustment, which hears challenges to development code rulings, have both accepted and rejected the city’s latest position on poker club operations. The citizens’ council has 15 members, but five-member panels hear appeals.

While Texas Card House was allowed to retain its certificate of occupancy, the owners of the Champions Club and the Dallas Poker Club lost their appeals of the denied claims with the city’s Board of Adjustment. Two separate Citizens’ Council panels upheld the denials last fall, citing the city’s new stance that chambers are illegal.

Another company, Shuffle 214 in Lake Highlands, hoping to keep its existing permit, had an adjustment board meeting last month postponed until May 17.

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