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Dallas Council Names Interim City Attorney And Will Explore a Legal Land Use for Poker Rooms 

Tammy Palomino, senior assistant Dallas city attorney and chief of general counsel, was tapped Wednesday to take over in an interim capacity when City Attorney Chris Caso retires Feb. 28. 

Palomino will serve until a permanent replacement is made, earning an annual salary of $264,215 plus an interim assignment stipend of 15 percent of her annual base pay. 

Caso submitted a retirement letter last week following speculation about his role in advising his employers — the Dallas City Council — on poker rooms. 

(Photo: Mimi Perez for CandyDirt.com)
Photo: Mimi Perez for CandysDirt.com

Taking a Gamble on Poker Rooms

The matter of poker rooms was again on the City Council agenda Wednesday as officials authorized legal fees related to several pending lawsuits. 

Tammy Palomino

Caso advised the council in 2019 to issue certificates of occupancy for gambling facilities and later reversed his decision, suggesting that state law was misinterpreted and COs were issued illegally. 

District 1 Councilman Chad West on Wednesday asked staff to explore a legal land use “with neighborhood protections” for private game rooms. That means the businesses could operate as long as they are away from single-family neighborhoods and perhaps allow other social activities such as arcade games or darts.

“I don’t know if the card rooms will like that, but it’s the cleanest way forward for them,” West told CandysDirt.com

Chad West

The city would lose about $1.1 million in annual property tax and sales tax by banning just one such facility, Texas Card House, West said, based on TCH’s 2022 contributions. 

“Because of the decision and this complicated zoning issue, we’ve generated $550,000 in attorneys’ fees,” West said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We could kill an industry that provides jobs and revenue to the city.” 

Members of the Texas Card House on Harry Hines Boulevard pay dues and can bring their own food and drinks inside, according to the club website. A judge issued an order in December that poker rooms could remain open while they are appealing the city’s revocation of their certificates of occupancy. 

Legal Fees And Land Use

The council approved about $300,000 in legal fees Wednesday to pay outside counsel to review appeals from card houses as well as appeals from the city’s chief building official to a Board of Adjustments decision. 

Thomas DuPree, representing the Bent Tree North neighborhood, addressed the council in opposition to card rooms. 

“The damages to a neighborhood that has a nearby poker club go well beyond the values of safety and neighborhoods,” he said. “The economic hardship that would be placed on a neighborhood like the one I represent would be significant. Just a 10 percent reduction in home value would result in a real loss of over $50 million. The cost of litigation pales to this number. These establishments are illegal and cannot be regulated.” 

West said neighborhoods won’t be protected if card houses are forced to go underground and operate illegally. 

“This is Dallas,” he said. “We’re supposed to be a city that is pro-business. This motion, if it’s adopted by council, flips the script here. The intent is to direct staff to spend its time and energy in a positive way to generate revenue for public safety, parks, and all the things we love, and provide a safe, regulated place for this industry to survive away from neighborhoods.” 

Council Members on Poker Rooms

Cara Mendelsohn

The decision to pursue a legal land use option for card rooms — outside of residential neighborhoods — was unanimous. 

However, District 12 Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn pointed out that Civil District Judge Eric Moye ruled that poker rooms are illegal. Furthermore, the city has a legal obligation under city code to remove a certificate of occupancy from an illegal operation, an assistant city attorney confirmed in response to a question from Mendelsohn. 

District 7 Councilman Adam Bazaldua said attempting to shut down poker houses “in the way that we did” didn’t result in a positive outcome. 

Adam Bazaldua

“We need to find a better avenue,” he said. “It’s never a good strategy in government to go the route of prohibition. I think it’s never a good strategy for our body to play morality police. If we have our city attorneys telling us that establishments legally exist across our state, we are just once again allowing other municipalities in our region to take industry, job opportunities, and what could be a very well-regulated industry that generates tax revenue, away from us. By doing that, it’s a result of lazy governing. We’re here to do the hard work. We should be doing that hard work with a scalpel and not a hammer.” 

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