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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Texas Poker Bill Dead Until 2010 or Later

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Many thought it was a long shot when Rep. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) introduced the bill in late 2008 to legalize and tax poker games and tournaments in the state of Texas, which bears the name of the most famous hold’em game. And though supporters did turn out to hearings and committee meetings, the chances of its passage in the state legislature didn’t look good, but when Governor Rick Perry vowed to veto any pro-gaming legislation, Menendez withdrew the bill.

House Bill 222 was one that would have offered licenses to casinos, Indian reservations, pari-mutuel establishments, bars and taverns, and even charitable organizations to host poker games and tournaments in the state of Texas. A tax on revenue from those endeavors would have not only benefited the state, but 50 percent was tapped for homeless shelters and related programs.

Originally introduced in November of 2008 by Menendez, the bill ultimately found its way to the Texas House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee on March 25, at which time supporters and opponents made their voices heard on the issue. The subsequent April 2 vote passed it, with a vote of 6-3, out of the committee and on to the House of Representatives.

But as Menendez scheduled the bill for a vote, it became clear that the support necessary - 100 votes out of the 150 possible in the House - was unlikely with the outspoken opposition from the conservative wing. And with the knowledge that Gov. Perry would not sign the bill in the end, Menendez suspended HB 222 on Thursday, May 14. As he removed it from the floor, he noted, “You need to know when to hold them, and you need to know when to fold them.”

Ultimately, Menendez told the Dallas Morning News that if President Obama’s stimulus package hadn’t helped the state’s budget crisis, the idea of tax revenue from gaming may have won over more of his legislative colleagues. “We came into the session billions of dollars short. The stimulus pulled us out of dire straits. If we were cutting school budgets and not giving teachers raises, we would see a lot more willingness.”

However, with the anti-gaming stance of the Texas governor, it seemed unlikely that the law would have made it past his desk in the end. But Texas may see a lengthy financial crisis in its future, and Gov. Perry is losing support. Menendez hopes to reintroduce his bill in two years when budgetary concerns come into play again, though he could choose to do it as soon as 2010. Much of the decision-making may ride on the results of Rep. Barney Frank’s pro-online gaming legislation in Congress, as a positive outcome could also sway the views of many in his state.

The factors that will dictate the future of poker in Texas are many, and though poker players and Rep. Menendez may be dejected at this time, there could be a turn of the tide in coming months and years that will allow legislation to have a better chance. As the rash of poker robberies and police raids become more prominent in Texas, poker players are beginning to speak out as never before. It will be up to their state representatives to eventually listen and act.

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