North Texas Poker Clubs Flout State Gambling Laws

North Texas Poker Clubs

Jody Wheeler’s FTN Poker operates in McKinney, but card clubs in nearby Dallas and Plano were shut down.

FTN Poker on Lake Forest Drive in McKinney is the latest in a series of poker clubs in North Texas. FTN Poker is described by the Dallas Morning News as a “private social club“, but locals are trying to determine whether such a club is legal or not.

Jody Wheeler, the owner of FTN Poker, told Valerie Wigglesworth of the Dallas Morning News that he is doing what it takes to operate within the law. Wheeler said he has lawyers on retainer to assure he complies.

Casino gambling is illegal in Texas. Operating a for-profit poker club is illegal, too. McKinney police have raided illegal poker dens in the past, but FTN Poker seems to act within the law.

Texas has a gray area for private poker clubs which do not collect a rake and do not allow tips for dealers. That’s the loophole Jody Wheeler and other club owners use to stay in business.

FTN Poker: North Texas Poker Club

The revenue behind Jody Wheeler’s gaming operation is based upon private country clubs. Country clubs are the site of poker games all the time. Members bet on their private games, but the house does nothing more than provide a location for the gaming and serve drinks and snacks to the players.

Like the country clubs, FTN Poker charges a monthly membership fee to its members, which number more than 500 people. Those who visit the poker room are charged an additional hourly membership fee. No other money exchanges hands, except among individual card players.

FTN Poker’s Layout

FTN Poker has 9 custom-made tables. Most of the tables house poker games. One smaller table is alloted for backgammon, chess, and board games. The walls are lined with 10 LCD televisions, which show sporting events most of the day.

One important aspect of the poker room is that people who do not play cards do the same. That’s important, because it shows that the fees are not simply about poker, and it shows that non-card players are willing to pay fees to enjoy the private club. Though the name says FNP Poker, there is more to the business than Texas Hold’em.

Community Card Player’s Poker Business

Jonathan Grego of the private business, Community Card Player, says he would not operate a club like Jody Wheeler does. Grego said, “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.”

Grego said he organizes poker tournaments for restaurants and bars in the DFW area. Community Card Player receives a flat fee from the businesses which host the games, while Grego gives out cash prizes to the winners. His games are legal, because he does not charge a rake of every hand.

When asked how his business is different and whether his venture is feasible, Grego said, “It’s so crucial in how you do it. If you’re doing it aboveboard, it’s 10 times harder.”

East and South Texas Poker Clubs

By ‘aboveboard’, Jonathan Grego means with flat fees from venues willing to pay him to draw a crowd — not from quasi-legal poker club fees. Grego is not the only one who looks askance at the poker clubs. When they sprang up in East Texas and South Texas earlier this year, poker clubs became controversial. Some charges seat rental fees, which local police thought were not aboveboard.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area’s law enforcement and civil officials are still working out whether poker clubs are legal. In several municipalities around the Metroplex, clubs like FTN Poker are being shut down. CJ’s Card Club on Walnut Hill Lane in Dallas was raided on September 7. The case is still pending, but CJ’s Card Club’s Facebook page says the site is closed now.

Big Texas Poker Club

Big Texas Poker Club on Jupiter Road in Plano was open 3 weeks before it had to shut its doors. Fred and Heather Zimmerman, the owners of Big Texas, said they had to close to avoid arrest. The Zimmermans said they did their homework and their poker club was legal, but the Plano Police Department did not see it that way.

The couple received threatening letters stating they would be raided, if they continued to organize games. Fred Zimmerman said his card club was performing a community service, because the police are going to drive card games underground. Zimmerman said, “This is a legitimate business, and it’s better than illegal poker rooms.”

Plano, Texas Card Clubs

Poker Rooms of Texas in nearby Plano closed down, after it was raided last year. Its website said it “is working with local authorities to resolve operational issues”, but Poker Rooms of Texas’s owners would not return DMN phone calls.

Another Plano business, TopSet Poker Club, announced it would have a grand opening. Before opening night ever arrived, its owners decided to delay. TopSet’s owners want to work out with authorities beforehand whether their business is legal or not.

Texas Gambling Laws

The Texas legislature takes a dim view towards gambling. Texas allows betting on horse races. It allows convenience stores to house eight-liners, also called maquineras by the locals — but 8-liners cannot pay cash to winners. Instead, players receive gas, groceries, or lottery tickets. Speaking of the lottery, the Texas State Lottery, Powerball, and Mega Millions are legal — and immensely popular.

Otherwise, gambling is illegal in Texas. Mind you, Texans love to gamble, but the drive across the state lines into Oklahoma and Louisiana to make their bets. The WinStar World Casino in Thackerville and Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma are two of the largest casinos in the world, mainly based on customers who drive an hour north from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to gamble. Lake Charles, Louisiana has 9 land-based casinos, mainly because people from Houston drive a little over 2 hours to get to Lake Charles.

Such is the way in Texas. Lawmakers do not want to be accused of being soft on vice crimes or morality laws, and Texans support that stance. That being said, they love to gamble. The game is called Texas Hold’em, after all.

Whether that means FTN Poker stays in business very long is another matter, though.