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Group Aims to Convince Lawmakers to Legalize Poker in Texas

Texas Association of Poker Players Now in Business

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Wayne Long used to play small buy-in Texas hold'em tournaments in a bar outside of Houston's city limits. He even won one of the events, and says the couple who ran the little "beer joint" got assurance from county officials that they wouldn't be bothered, even though holding poker tournaments in a public place in Texas has been illegal for decades.

And the owners were right, the county didn't bother them at all. It was state officials who came in and shut down the game, which shouldn't have been a surprise for any of the players who play poker in Texas.

The state has taken a clear and inflexible stance on poker in Texas, cancelling everything from charity tournaments to "poker runs" across the state. Not even poker superstars are exempt. Last May, the Phil Hellmuth Poker Challenge, a charity tournament scheduled to be held in Houston, was ordered cancelled by the state's attorney general. The event was expected to raise at least $250,000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Long is so sick of poker players being treated like criminals in his state that he decided to do something about it and formed the Texas Association of Poker Players (TAPP).

"It really annoyed me that I'm having to sneak around and have to worry about stuff like that when all I want to do is play poker," Long said. "I got ticked off, is actually what happened."

The Houston real estate broker formed TAPP in February and spent the last four months preparing to go public. He built a website, recruited some of his poker-playing friends and announced to the world last week that TAPP is here. He's now working on getting the word out to Texas poker players that TAPP wants to work hard to make poker legal in his state.

"Our basic goal is to unite Texas poker players so they could speak with one voice," Long said. "Everybody knows here that if we got to vote on legalizing poker, it would be approved."

Long has history to back his claim up. Pari-mutuel betting and horse racing was legalized in Texas back in the late '80s after years of effort went into getting it on the referendum ballot. It passed the first time around. The same thing happened with the state lottery about a decade later.

"The people of Texas have demonstrated that they kind of like to gamble," Long said.

Long's next step is to recruit as many players as he can to join TAPP. Soon, radio spots and print ads will appear promoting TAPP around Houston, with plans to extend to other parts of the state soon. When membership reaches about 1,500 people, TAPP will hire a law firm based in Austin that specializes in lobbying issues.

Long believes he shouldn't have a problem convincing members to join his cause. Texas is a big state with lots and lots of people who play cards, especially the game that bears Texas's name. It's just a matter of getting the word out.

"If we can figure out who is all out there and who will come to the table, we'll be a big group," he said.

Long also says he's been in contact with other nonprofit groups that are working to convince lawmakers that poker should be legalized. Long believes it's essential for the groups to put on a united front to fight for the legalization of poker.

People can join TAPP for as little as $25. There are also different levels of sponsorship, the $250 "Association Sponsorship" being the most expensive. Right now, less than a week old, TAPP has only about 50 members, but Long predicts that will soon change, considering his efforts.

Plus, players are starting to realize that the threat to poker is a real one. Washington State just made it a Class C felony to play poker online there and there are several lawmakers that are working hard to pass bills to stop online poker in its tracks. Click here and here for CardPlayer.com's past articles on this issue.

TAPP can be found at texasassociationofpokerplayers.com. Visit them for more information.