Deal 'em: Poker clubs in Houston drawing mixed reactions

HOUSTON – It's got all the stakes of Vegas style poker -- all the bets and the bluffs. But you don’t have to book a flight or drive too far because these hands of Texas Hold 'Em are being played right here in the Houston area.

“It is a private, members-only poker club. It's a great place to facilitate people that love the game of Texas Hold 'Em, and other variations of the game, to come out and play,” Carl Pittman said.

Pittman and Scott Ketcham are the owners of the Poker Club at West Houston, right off the Katy Freeway.

They've been friends for 32 years. Both served in the Marines and worked as law enforcement officers.

They opened the club in May, and say in just two months, they signed up 450 members.

“We're told so many times, 'Boy, I'm sure happy we don't have to drive to Lake Charles anymore just to play poker,'" Pittman said.

The Poker Club At West Houston isn't the only game in town. Over the last year, other poker clubs have popped up in Houston, too.

But is it legal?

“If it was wrong, I wouldn't be doing it,” Pittman said.

Technically, the poker games are not against the law.

This is how it stacks up:

According to Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code, gambling is against the law unless the following is at hand:

1. You're in a private place
2. No one profits from hosting the game
3. The risk of losing and chances of winning are the same for all participants

Pittman said he and his partner follow the letter of the law.

When asked if the house gets paid off the winnings, Pittman strongly replied, “Absolutely not. We only make our income from what happens at the door, the entry fee. The membership fee, and renting these chairs for $15 an hour. That would be absolutely illegal to do that, and we're not gonna do that.”

But not everyone thinks poker clubs in Houston are a good idea.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado is one of them. She recently spoke with KPRC about the growing trend of poker clubs here in the Houston area.

“They are skirting around the law, and they’ve done it in a very sneaky way. They’re basically running casinos and they’ve circumvented the law,” she said. “They’re not selling alcohol, so the TABC is not involved. It’s a very sneaky way, and it needs to be stopped.”

When asked their reaction to those, like Alvarado, to say they are skirting the law, or others who feel these clubs bring an element of crime into the areas where they are located, Ketcham replied with a simple request.

“I would respectfully ask them to come down to the club. You won't see a criminal element in here. You'll see soccer moms, doctors, police officers, correction officers, oil people, sports people. Folks that want to play Texas Hold 'Em and they want to do so in a safe environment,” Pittman said.

Earlier July, the Texas attorney general declined to give an opinion on whether these clubs are permitted under Texas law. Instead, he has chosen to stay out of the matter and let the courts decide.

Until then, Texas Hold 'Em will go on.