An old law is subject to new interpretation. Bar owners are being forced to juggle the demand for Texas Hold 'Em with the laws surrounding the game.
Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) are warning bar owners that neither the bar nor the customer can gain anything of value from gambling. Lieutenant Harry Schreffler, Lubbock District TABC Supervisor, says, "It appears it's very difficult for a bar to legally hold a tournament. If there is anything of value that is being exchanged, or if there is the possibility of winning, then the tournament would be considered gambling."
And gambling is a violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Code. Lieutenant Schreffler sent his agents to warn bar owners: you could have your license taken away or face a significant fine if you hold a poker tournament for anything other than fun. He explains, "For bragging rights. That would be great, that would be legal as far as the association looked at it, as far as I understand."
For Scott Stephenson, Owner of Jake's Sport's Cafe, it would have been nice to know that a little earlier. Stephenson hosted a poker tournament at his bar back in April. As far as he knew, it was legal to gamble for prizes as long as admission wasn't charged. Now awaiting a day in court over that tourney, cards will still be dealt at Jake's, but the stakes are a bit lower. Stephenson says, "We're gonna have a game. If someone wants to come and play for the joy of winning and coming in first, we'll keep track of them and we'll put their name on the wall."
Poker Tournament Plays at Jake's
After weeks of legal wrangling, Jake's Sport's Cafe hosted 60 poker players - legally.
Lieutenant Schreffler now faces the daunting task of explaining to citizens and bar owners alike why playing poker for money is any different than say a game of pool or bowling. He says, "The way the penal code lays that out, they go with a game of skill and a game of chance." A game of skill is legal to play for prize money; a game of chance is considered gambling. The distinction is a very gray area, some would argue poker does take skill. Stephenson says, "I'm hoping the Attorney General or someone will make it more clear." Attorney General, Greg Abbott is expected to offer his legal opinion soon on what is and what is not acceptable.