There’s a big deal pending with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott right now, and though his opinion is technically not be legally binding, his decision will set a standard that impacts thousands and thousands of players in Texas … and will affect the state’s ability to raise millions of dollars for charity via poker.
The Kerr County Attorney has asked for an opinion on charity poker galas. He wants to know if hosting a pricey dinner that happens to include an optional poker tournament violates Texas gambling laws if the winners are awarded prizes. Likewise he wants to know if leasing a ballroom or banquet hall for such an event constitutes a “private place” defense.
Back in the old days (like pre-2006) big fun underlay charity tourneys were common. High society types would pony up, say $500 (w/ rebuys) to compete in a 300-player field with first prize being a WSOP main event seat. TJ Cloutier and Troy Aikman were usually playing. These events showed they could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time for different charities. But then the rule suddenly changed … with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission threatening to yank liquor licenses for any such event that gave the winner a prize; the only way to do it, TABC said, is to have a poker tournament and choose prize recipients via raffle.
This was stupid, of course … and the results led to suckier tournaments with no incentive to rebuy raising way less money for charity. Guys like Phil Hellmuth and Dale Hansen had to cancel events … but after a couple years of spotty and jurisdictionally questionable enforcement, some charities began saying “fuggit!” and throwing tourneys the old way. Recently: Phil Hellmuth did in San Antonio what he couldn’t do in Houston, partnering with Tony Parker and Eva Langoria and tons of mainstream sponsors (HEB, AeroMexico, San Antonio Spurs, et al.) to throw a wildly successful event that raised nearly $500,000 for Eva’s Heroes. (1,200 people entered this $300 w/ rebuys event.)
So anyhow, yes, now Kerr County Attorney Rex Emerson is asking pre-emptively, does the state plan to prosecute these sorts of events?
Frankly, I don’t have my hopes up for what is essentially “medicinal poker”. But it would be a great step towards the good, clean, fully legal Texas Hold’em we’re all looking for. Last time Abbott was asked for a poker opinion — in 2005 (or was it ’04?) by an El Paso DA unsure how to proceed with a wave of APL-style events in his city — the AG’s interpretation of the law made a huge difference to me personally and many Pokerati readers, as he declared free tournaments were not gambling no matter the prize … because it can’t be gambling if there is no risk … and clearly the gambling laws weren’t written with intent of stopping Lodge Amateur Poker and other similar activities.
Fingers crossed that charity poker will be seen in a similar legal light.