Recently a number of establishments licensed to sell alcoholic beverages have begun to offer poker tournaments for the entertainment of their patrons, either by the licensee or by a third party working on the licensed premises. This has led to a number of questions to this agency as to the legality of this practice.
All alcoholic beverage license or permits are subject to suspension, imposition of a civil fine or cancellation if they are operated in a "place or manner that warrants the cancellation or suspension of the permit based on the general welfare, health, peace, morals and safety of the people and on the public sense of decency." Alcoholic Beverage Code §11.61(b)(7); 61.71(a)(17). By rule, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission has defined this statute to mean that a permittee violates the above-cited statutes if the permittee violates, or knowing or negligently allows another to violate, certain penal statutes on the licensed premises. Among those penal statutes are the Penal Code provisions prohibiting gambling in Texas. 16 Tex. Admin. C §35.31 (c)(14). These gambling statutes are contained in Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code.
In summary then, an alcoholic beverage licensee/permittee violates the Alcoholic Beverage Code if he/she engages in illegal gambling on the licensed premises or allows another to do so.
Unfortunately, we cannot offer general or hypothetical opinions as to whether certain programs or ways of conducting tournaments violate the Texas Penal Code. Rather, we must make those determinations in the context of the specific facts as they happen to occur on licensed premises. We advise any licensee/permittee or unlicensed company planning to conduct poker tournaments to consult the Penal Code provisions relating to gambling and, if possible, obtain private legal counsel.
Prosecutions of illegal gambling activity are conducted by local district or county attorneys who may be able to provide advice as to particular conduct that will or will not be prosecuted in their particular jurisdiction.