LAKE JACKSON — A members-only social club on Plantation Drive is at the center of a debate over how state law defines legal gambling.
Lake Jackson Police Chief Paul Kibodeaux has investigated Brazoria Social Club over a series of months and found owner/operator Ryan Huey to be extremely cooperative, he said. At least one complaint that the club may be hosting illegal gambling prompted him to look into the club, Kibodeaux said.
Brazoria Social Club is a group that meets at the Plantation Drive location and pays a membership fee, Huey said. They play poker, billiards, chess and other games, he said.
The establishment opened in June 2018 after Huey met with city officials to ensure he could have the proper permits and operate legally, he said. He signed a three-year lease for the building.
State law allows gambling as long as it happens in a private place, no person receives economic benefit other than personal winnings and except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all participants.
Huey believes the social club operates legally, he said, and though the police chief might feel that it’s not a private place like the law defines, the door locks and a membership fee is required to participate.
When he originally “caught wind” of the potential legality problem, Brazoria Social Club had stopped operating temporarily, Huey said.
This was at the time when a different but similarly run social club in Houston was facing charges from the Harris County District Attorney, he said. When that case was dismissed and Huey could not find any other issues with social clubs like his, he resumed operating, he said.
Kibodeaux got in contact with Huey shortly before the holidays, Kibodeaux said.
“My opinion, obviously, is that some of the aspects of what they’re trying to do is illegal,” Kibodeaux said.
He sought an opinion from the district attorney, who confirmed his interpretation, the chief said.
Huey voluntarily stopped operations after Kibodeaux informing him of the issue and sought support from the City Council at its meeting Tuesday.
If council saw what Brazoria Social Club does, they’d likely have no problem with it, Huey said.
Members of the social club, including Kurt Evans, filled about a row of seating at the council meeting.
The club wants a place where they can go to play games with an air conditioner and a bathroom, Evans said. They’ve tried to keep it up front, don’t want to hide away at a home and don’t play after 11 p.m., he said.
“We just want a place to be, to be legal,” Evans said.
Because gambling is defined by state law, not the city’s ordinances, council’s hands are tied, Mayor Bob Sipple said.
Huey offered several options that could help his mission, including donating a percentage or all of his profits to charity, meeting with the district attorney and sitting down with a group of attorneys to determine legality.
But those aren’t things the city has control over, council members said.
The city is capable of having police arrest people or pull the certificate of occupancy, but they’re trying to not get to that point, City Attorney Sherri Russell said.
If there is activity going on that might be illegal, Kibodeaux said he’s obligated to investigate it.
“I appreciate that we’re doing this out in the open, but because it’s not the city ordinance, all we can do is wish you the best,” Councilman Gerald Roznovsky said.