The owner of the Watauga Poker Club, which was raided, intends to plead guilty to charges related to “organized crime” in Texas.

According to PokerNews, the owner of the Watauga Social Lounge Poker Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Joe Vongkaysone, is set to plead guilty to charges of organized criminal activity and gambling promotion. As part of his plea deal, a third charge of keeping a gambling place has been dropped.

Until a police raid disrupted a tournament in October 2022, the club was Texas’ largest and most renowned. Following the raid, numerous employees were arrested, and 49 players faced charges related to “gambling — cards, dice, balls,” although many of these charges were eventually dismissed.

A plea deal deemed “inequitable” by some.

“Under the terms of the deal, Vongkaysone won’t serve jail time but will surrender $170,000 in penalties, plus interest. Authorities confiscated approximately $205,000 during the raid, including the $132,000 prize pool for the top performers in the club’s Fall Classic Poker $100,000 GTD Main Event, which was underway during the raid. Vongkaysone stated that he had initially planned to contest the charges but depleted his funds, spending $195,000 on legal expenses to defend himself and eight employees.”

The reason for targeting Vongkaysone’s club while leaving others in the Dallas area untouched is not immediately apparent.

Legal Loophole

In Texas, like in other places, all forms of gambling are illegal unless explicitly permitted by the legislature. However, the state’s poker clubs contend that they operate within the bounds of the law through a legal loophole. Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code outlines that “It is a defense to prosecution [for gambling]” if certain conditions are met, including gambling in a private setting, with no economic gain for anyone beyond personal winnings, and equal chances of winning and losing for all participants, aside from any skill or luck advantage.

“The establishments assert that they are “private” enterprises that do not collect a commission from games. Instead, they levy an hourly fee on patrons for access to the premises.”

Critics argue that the exemption for “private” settings was meant for home games, and the clubs don’t qualify as private venues since they can draw hundreds of players daily.

Currently, the City of Dallas is embroiled in a legal dispute with numerous local card clubs. In December 2022, a judge in Dallas County ruled that the clubs could continue operating until their legality is ultimately determined by the State Supreme Court.