Is Legalized Poker in the Cards for Texas?

Poker is a game of skill, not chance

Is Legalized Poker in the Cards for Texas?

Poker players received a bit of good news last week as a bill to legalize the game in Texas was passed by a House committee. The Poker Gaming Act of 2009 (House Bill 222) by Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, was passed by the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee by a vote of six to three. The bill seeks to legalize and regulate forms of poker including the state’s namesake, Texas Hold’em. The bill would allow local communities to vote separately on whether to legalize the game rather than having an all-encompassing state ruling. Cities would be able to apply for poker licenses through the Texas Lottery Commission.

Menendez conservatively estimates that poker could bring in $150 million a year for the state. Neighboring states are already reaping the economic benefits of legalized poker. CardPlayer Magazine reported that tribal gaming in Oklahoma brought in $2.5 billion last year and that their poker scene shows no signs of slowing. The popular WinStar Casino on the Oklahoma/Texas border has tripled the number of poker tables available over the last two years. So the state that took our Heisman and National Championship slot is now happily raking our hard-earned bankrolls as well. Somehow getting only Toby Keith in return to endorse Ford’s “Truck of Texas” seems highly unjust.

Menendez had introduced a similar poker bill (HB 3186) in 2007. That bill fell short when it failed to reach the Capitol floor for its second reading before the midnight deadline. That bill was greeted with enthusiastic support, drawing several poker pros, including Lyle Berman and native Texan Clonie Gowen to the capital city. The players appeared before the committee to support legalization and to attest that poker is a game of skill rather than chance.

Though the testimony was appreciated, it might not be necessary the second time around. A study released last month provided statistical data that poker is indeed a game of skill. Citigal, a software security and consulting firm based in Virginia, analyzed more than 100 million poker hands played in cash games on PokerStars. In the skill vs. chance scheme of things, the findings showed that about 75 percent of hands played never reached a showdown. Furthermore, the study concluded, “only rarely, (about 12% of all hands) does the player who can make the best 5 cards go all the way to the showdown and win.” In short, a would-be winner is folded about 88% of the time. The study’s co-author, Dr. Sean McCulloch, stated, “If the hand didn’t have a showdown, the cards didn’t pick a winner in that game.” He added, “Any time you make a decision that affects the outcome of the hand, you’re using skill in some way.”

HB 222 moves to the House of Representatives later this month. It’s still a long way before poker proponents crack the state’s pocket aces. But it is possible, provided we don’t fold our 6-7. Suited.

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81st Legislature, Texas House of Representatives, Lyle Berman, Clonie Gowen

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