Legal Gambling, Betting & Poker in Texas

Is Online Gambling Legal In The State Of Texas?

Texas is fairly restrictive in its gambling legislation, forcing many residents to cross into neighboring Louisiana or Oklahoma to enjoy casino games. Texans can enjoy betting on horse and greyhounds (on track), lottery games and even poker home games – as long as nobody profits from running the game. There have been some recent legislative attempts to expand gambling in this State, though they are meeting resistance. This article gives you an overview of the gambling laws in the State of Texas.

First of all below, a walk through the history of gambling in the Lone-Star State – which takes us right up to the present day. After that you will find a game-by-game summary, highlighting the current legal status of the different forms of gambling. Next some more details, including excerpts from the Texas statutes and a legal timeline – highlighting major events for gamblers. Finally, a summary of the current situation and a look towards the future can be found.


Texas Gambling Laws – A Brief History

While early settlers enjoyed casinos, horse racing and lotteries in what was to become Texas territory, the initial constitution of this State blanket banned all types of gambling. As was the prevailing attitude at the time, any bet on a chance outcome, and almost every type of gambling that could be thought up, was added to the definition of illegal gambling here.

There looked to be a breakthrough in 1933, when pari-mutuel betting on horse racing was made legal. This was struck down again only 4 years later, and it would be 1989 before betting would return to the famous Texas horse-racing tracks. Even today these venues have been denied the chance to add slots (becoming ‘racinos’) as they do in neighboring States.

Authorities in Texas fought off casino gambling on two separate fronts. Firstly from the tribes, who took their claims to the Federal courts after local authorities shut down their initial high-stakes bingo halls and casino developments. Eventually, Texas won the arguments and the only remaining Tribal casino is the Kickapoo Tribe’s Lucky Eagle, which is located way down on the Mexican border. The other front for casinos was on the water, with boat-casino cruises offering their games from international waters. The Texas government used a law from 1948 to fight these boat operators, requiring them to have been afloat for 24 hours and to have docked at a foreign port.

While nominally the war against casinos was won, the reality is somewhat different. Texas residents can easily cross into Louisiana or Oklahoma, where casinos are ‘conveniently’ located just the other side of the border. This has caused at least one politician to suggest State regulation of casinos to keep that gambling revenue closer to home.

There is only one legal poker room in Texas. This is at the Lucky Eagle casino and out of easy reach for most residents. Crossing State borders or enjoying a social home-game are the alternatives. For a social game to be considered legal, the participants need to have a prior social relationship – and nobody must profit from hosting the game.

Texans enjoy a lottery and limited charity bingo or raffle games.


What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, there are limited casino gaming opportunities in Texas, with a single tribal casino offering slot games and poker tables. Most Texans seeking casino gambling travel to neighboring Louisiana or Oklahoma.

Online Casinos: No, there is no wording on the Statutes that mentions the internet, however the broad wording of the current statutes is assumed to cover this.

Live Poker: Yes, though only at the Lucky Eagle tribal casino on the Mexican border. Social home-games are allowed under the legislation. To be considered legal the participants need to demonstrate a prior social relationship, and nobody must profit from hosting the game.

Online Poker: No, it is not thought likely that Texas will join other states in regulating online poker games.

Sports Betting: Yes, you can enjoy pari-mutuel betting on both greyhound and horse races via on-track facilities.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Texas has a State lottery and participates in inter-State lottery games.

Bingo Games: Yes, there are carve-outs for charity gaming, these require licenses and are subject to strict rules on the prizes and frequency of the games.


Texas Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

Texas criminalizes the ‘bet’ component of gambling, and has created a definition broad enough to cover just about every gambling format. This State is keen on enforcement, with large numbers of busts. Home-games are legal as long as nobody makes a profit from running the games, so these busts target those profiteering from illegal gambling.

Here are the key legal definitions from the Statute books – first for a ‘bet’ and then ‘gambling’:

“…an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance.” (From 47-01)

(a) A person commits an offense if he:

(1) makes a bet on the partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest;

(2) makes a bet on the result of any political nomination, appointment, or election or on the degree of success of any nominee, appointee, or candidate; or

(3) plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls, or any other gambling device.”

 

Note that skill game arguments are ruled out for poker with the ‘element of chance’ wording of the ‘bet’ definition. Specifying cards, dice and balls adds further to the scope of what gambling involves.

1933: Pari-Mutuel betting first legalized at Texan horse racing tracks.

1937: Betting at racing tracks banned again.

1971: Law exempting charities from the anti-lottery Statutes is passed, this was struck down again 2 years later, and not returned to the books until a 1989 constitutional amendment led to a charity raffles act in 1990.

1982: First licenses were issues for charitable gambling, after a constitutional amendment passed in 1980.

1987: Referendum allows for pari-mutuel betting to return, with Simulcast betting from racetracks permitted in 1991.

1988: First ‘Casino Cruise’ allowing gambling in international waters sets sail from the Texas coast.  This would kick off a series of legal challenges involving the requirement to stop at a foreign port. Several ships came and went, with the last one stopping operations in 2008.

1992: Texas State lottery begins following a referendum, this includes scratch-off games as well as draws.

1996 – 2002: Legal disputes between Tribal groups and the Texan government saw high stakes bingo halls and casinos opened and then closed down again. In the end the State won the battles, and the only remaining tribal casino is owned by the Kickapoo tribe and is located south of San Antonio on the Mexican border.

2013: Several acts were introduced, seeking to expand gambling in different areas. These included calls to allow Video Lottery Terminals at racetracks (Bill NH2729) and another (which never made it out of committee) looking to authorize 8 State-licensed casinos (SJR64). These at least show some appetite for moving forward with gambling regulation.


Texas Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

Texas has a large population that has traditionally enjoyed gambling games. There are also a lot of residents who would like all gambling banned on moral grounds. The result is probably not satisfactory to either side, with betting on horse and greyhound racing, lottery, bingo and social poker games all easily accessible. The single tribal casino is at tucked away on the Southern border.

There have been recent attempts to start legislation on expanding gambling in this State. While these did not make it to a vote, they demonstrate that there are progressive elements on this subject within the government. I do not expect to see any sudden changes here, and would also not expect Texas to legalize online poker games in the near future.


Useful Resources:

Wiki Links Interesting Historical Perspectives

Statutes Detailed / Summary

News Of First Casino Cruise