Lawmakers weigh in on legal poker club in Houston

HOUSTON – In an effort to get rid of stereotypes associated with poker clubs, the owners of Post Oak Poker Club said when they created their business model they were only thinking upscale.

“We want to take poker out of the back allies and the dark corners and bring it to the spotlight,” said Bill Heuer, one of the owners of Post Oak Poker Club. “We’re looking for that upscale client, so we made sure that everything in this building was first-class and we continue to add upon that to make it better and better every day.”

The poker club, which is located at 1801 Post Oak Blvd., where the old Mo’s ... A Place for Steaks was located, opened about a week ago.

Heuer and his business partners said they’ve had a strong reception from customers, but local and state officials have concerns about where the chips are being stacked.

“It doesn’t sound like it should be legal, I don’t like the fact that it’s in my district, I don’t like the fact it’s in my city and I certainly don’t like the fact that it’s in Post Oak,” explained Houston City Council Member Greg Travis, who represents District G.

Travis said Heuer and his business partners did approach him before opening the club, but he said he was vocal that he was not in favor of it.

“I think it would bring in a crime element that we don’t already have here because you’re going to have people coming out of those doors at 2 to 3 in the morning having been drinking all the time with money in their pockets,” said Travis. “Some won’t have money, some will, but that’s going to cause a criminal element to flock there to actually prey upon these people.”

Heuer said they hired a security guard to be at the club from the time it opens to well after it closes to make sure people get to their cars safely.

“The type of crowd that you would expect to find here is the same type of crowd you would expect to find at River Oaks Country Club. We cater to a more upscale group of patrons, people that just want to have a friendly and safe place to play poker,” said Heuer.

The business technically does not violate any state law because the club doesn’t take money from the games.

Instead, all the club charges is a one-time $10 initiation fee, $15 a day (or $150 a month) to play and $15 per hour for a seat at the table.

“I’m a free-market type of person, but I do think you have to be very careful with the mixture of what comes into your communities and what comes into your areas,” said Travis. “If we want to establish legalized gambling and do it through the proper channels and through the states and become a Vegas, that’s something we probably need to discuss as a community; this is a backwoods way to do this.”

Heuer said he wants to be as transparent as possible and invites police officers and elected officials to see how they operate.

“The fact is, they are trying to bring people in and make money off them, that’s their sole purpose, that’s no different than any other gambling establishment. They’re just trying to do it differently to get around the law, and if the law does allow it, the law needs to be changed,” Travis said.

Travis said he’s not opposed to poker, and has even played the game himself. He just doesn’t like the location.

“I will do everything I can in my power to get them shut down,” Travis said.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Councilman Greg Travis, but I find it hard to believe that he knows what’s going on in here when he hasn’t come to see us. So, I invite him to come check us out and see we truly are Houston’s most upscale poker club,” Heuer said.

State Lawmakers Response

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has been a proponent of having the voters decide if they want to legalize gambling in Texas and if it were to happen then it would be regulated, licensed and done in the most professional way.

“There’s an appetite, if you look at polling, people want gambling, whether they gamble or not,” said Alvarado. “I don’t, but I think it ought to be allowed, because if you do it right, it can add to the economy in Texas, but with a loophole like this, you’re circumventing the process, even though they’re doing it legally.”

She said her vision for gambling would be a casino with hotels, restaurants, retail and shopping to help with the economy.

"We know Texans like to gamble; you go to Louisiana, you’ll have more Texas licenses plates than any other state,” said Alvarado.

She said she believed it’s unfortunate there’s a loophole  where card clubs can operate and she has concerns about crime and safety.

“This is a slippery slope. I don’t know what the consequences are of a place opening up like this,” said Alvarado. “This is why we need to have an election by the voters to decide if they want legalized gambling in Texas and if it happens then it will be regulated and licensed and done in the most professional way.”

Heuer said they’re currently working to introduce regulations with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to have his type of club and others licensed and official.

Other places in Texas have similar concepts as the Post Oak Poker Club.

In Austin, the Texas Card House follows the same rules for its private games.

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