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Is Gambling Legal in Texas? A 2024 Guide to Texas Gambling Laws

By Markas Suika
It is always a shock to many when they realize that the Texas constitution doesn’t share the same sentiment as the government in other parts of the world where gambling is legal. Texas is said to have some of the strictest legal restrictions on gambling activities in the United States. This article aims to uncover the legal framework surrounding online wagering in the state, revealing every gray area certain Texas residents exploit. Let’s get right into it.
Is Gambling Legal in Texas A Detailed Guide to Texas Gambling Laws

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Is Gambling Considered Legal in Texas?

Mostly, gambling in Texas is illegal, exempting certain activities.

So when and where is gambling legal in Texas and throughout the US? According to state laws, forms of gambling like casino gaming and sports betting are prohibited under Texas Penal Code Chapter 47.

Also, when it comes to online gambling in the US, Texas laws do not explicitly address it, but certain existing statutes point out that it is also an illegal activity.

The only forms of gambling acceptable in the state are limited to:

  • State lotteries
  • Pari-mutuel betting on horse and greyhound dog racing (Pari-mutuel or pool wagering is a system where all bets of a particular type are put together in a pool. The payout is then shared among the winners).
  • Charitable bingo and raffles

Gamblers should note that although these three activities are considered legal, the state places heavy regulations on them.

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History of Gambling Regulations in Texas

Considering the state’s current strict laws against gambling, you’ll be surprised to hear that Texas has a rich gambling history. The state formed the foundations of many Old West gambling stories and episodes. Even the world’s most popular poker variant bears the state’s name – Texas Hold’Em.

However, there’s a reason why Texas has such tight gambling regulations, and it can be traced to its long history. These laws stemmed from concerns about societal implications and the adverse effects such activities had on social interactions. As such, the state passed bills to maintain a moral society fueled by legislation restricting wagering activities throughout the 20th century.

Before 1903, when the Texas legislature rendered gambling illegal, betting activities were very rampant. Famous people like Lottie Deno and Doc Holliday were regular faces in various cities in Texas, playing against Dallas Cowboys and ranchers for extra cash in land-based casinos. The result of this, however, was an increase in societal vices, such as physical assaults, sexual abuse, and even gunfights.

As a result of these vices, the state passed a bill in 1903 that outlawed most forms of gambling. After that bill passed, the below trends followed up at various points in history:

  • In 1933, the state legalized pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing for a short while.
  • In 1937, James Allred, the Texas governor at the time, called for a re-ban on pari-mutuel betting after four years of legalization.
  • The year 1971 saw the removal of the ban on charities, excluding it from the prohibition on lotteries.
  • 1980 was when Bingo also became a legal activity for charitable organizations in the state.
  • In 1987, Texas voters reintroduced pool wagering on licensed horse racing activities through an amendment to the constitution.
  • 1988: Native American tribes became recognized by the state to provide casino gambling options on reservation lands.
  • In 1989, raffle draws gained validity as a legal activity for charitable organizations in the state.
  • 1991 saw a constitutional amendment permitting the introduction of state lotteries.

Lastly, in 2021, efforts to initiate a sea of change in the state’s laws on sports betting became widespread. However, contrary to these popular trends, Texas has maintained its conservative approach to gambling. Despite occasional legislative proposals, the state keeps resisting efforts to at least expand legal gambling options for its residents.

Gambling Regulations in Texas

Types of Legal Gambling in Texas

As mentioned earlier, state laws in Texas deem some forms of gambling legal, allowed by federal law. These are considered gray areas, and they are discussed below:

State Lottery

The state lottery, which was introduced in 1991 after voter approval, is allowed under Texas law as a legal gambling activity. It offers various draw games and scratch-off tickets where players get prizes if they win. The Texas Lottery Commission lottery operates this gambling system strictly, and most of the proceeds are often directed to the state’s public education.

Horse and Greyhound Racing

Pool betting on horse and greyhound races is another legal gambling activity in the state, governed by the Texas Racing Commission. Here, the purveyor, who must have a racing license from the state, holds a race, and many punters pool their bets together. Prizes are distributed to the winners from a large pool holding all the bets.

Charitable Bingo and Raffles

The state allows bingo games and raffles for nonprofit organizations looking to raise funds for charity. However, these organizations must adhere to strict regulations about the operation and use of proceeds. The Texas Lottery Commission acts as the regulatory body to ensure that charitable events adhere to these rules.

Native American Casinos

Federal law recognizes only one tribe, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, and state laws in Texas allow them to operate land-based casinos on their reservations. However, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass offers only Class II gaming. In other words, only bingo-based games and non-dealer card games are permitted.

Also, since it’s only this tribe that’s recognized, Native American gaming has a limited presence in the state.

Online Gambling Status in Texas

Just as with other forms of gambling, Texas takes an unyielding stance on online gambling—it is prohibited.

Unlike other states that have embraced online sports betting and casinos, Texas remains resolute in its stance. This firm position is partly due to concerns about problem gambling and its potential impact on residents.

This prohibition extends to online casinos, poker rooms, and even sports betting sites. In short, there is no legal sports betting in Texas as it stands.

Furthermore, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed in 2006 to prohibit online betting in Texas. This law prevents banks and other financial systems from processing payments related to unlawful internet gambling in Texas.

Notably, the state ensures that those caught perpetrating this act face misdemeanor charges, seizure of earnings, and even fines.

This law consequently means that online sports betting sites are unregulated, posing risks to players. These risks include having no form of security protecting their information, no way of resolving legal disputes, and no way of proving the games are fair on these betting sites.

Texas

Other Gambling Activities That Are Illegal in Texas

Beyond online betting sites, Texas laws place restrictions on other gambling activities. These include:

  • Casinos and Slot Machines: Texas does not allow casino gaming except in Native American casinos or slot machine establishments. Operating or engaging in anything from commercial brick-and-mortar casinos to small back-room game rooms is illegal. Even the ownership of slot machines or any other betting device counts as a violation of state laws.
  • Sports Bet: If it was ever a crime to place bets on sports, Texas is the state where that’s a reality. Since the period when every betting activity was banned in the Lone Star State, there has been no form of Texas sports betting alliance. You can’t even have online sports betting apps in a Texas house. In other words, wagering on sports games – including professional sports betting, amateur sports betting, and daily fantasy sports betting – is strictly prohibited in the state.
  • Private Poker Games: The state’s restrictions on wagering activities also extend to private poker games. Although relatively harmless, small poker rooms are illegal in Texas regardless of the location or wager size.

Note that the following establishments are exceptions to the state laws restricting wagering activities:

  • Exceptions for Fundraisers: Charity events focused on fundraising are allowed by Texas to conduct limited gambling activities. These may include bingo and raffles but must be under strict licensing and regulation requirements.
  • Native American Casinos: These establishments operate under Federal law, so Texas state law has no hold on them. As such, tribal casinos can offer a wider range of gambling options, such as slots, table games, and sports wagering.

Gambling Activities

Legal Grey Areas in Sports Betting and Other Aspects

Most forms of gambling are outright outlawed by state laws in Texas, excluding the exceptions mentioned above. However, some areas of gambling laws are said to be murky. A couple of examples are:

  • Social Gambling: Certain people may find themselves in private clubs, paying membership fees to engage in limited gambling activities. In such situations, no clear legal restrictions create uncertainty for these clubs. Generally, the legality of these clubs depends on the specific games played, the regularity of play, and the distribution of winnings.
  • Fantasy Sports: Fantasy sports betting lines are another grey area in Texas state laws without outright rules governing them. Since fantasy sports games do not fall under real-life sports events, participants may engage in them without sanction. However, certain restrictions will arise, restricting users from building virtual teams and competing for real-money prizes in fantasy sports betting. Despite the lack of clear regulations, fantasy sports betting still faces scrutiny, especially as the popularity of sports betting continues to grow.
  • Regulated Skill-Based Games: Sometimes, the line separating games of luck and skill-based games gets blurry. As a result, if players can prove that their favorite games are primarily based on skill, they may get away with some gambling activities. Texas law only prohibits engaging in games with an element of chance.

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Recent Legislative Efforts and the Future Outlook of Texas Law

Several legislative attempts to expand Texas betting options, including the ability to bet online, in recent times have yielded no significant results.

Sparking debates about the potential benefits of legalizing gambling, these efforts may pave the way for a shift in the wagering landscape.

Proposed bills and amendments

Many bills have been proposed regarding the legalization of various gambling activities. Let’s discuss a couple of them.

One such bill is the Casino Gambling Legislation in 2021, backed by Las Vegas Sands Corporation to create a gaming agency to regulate the industry. This bill also aimed to allow up to four destination hotels and resorts with casino gambling facilities in major cities. Lastly, the proponents pushed for the permission of at least three Native American tribes to offer casino gaming options on their lands.

However, these bills didn’t make it out of the committee, but it’s one major legislative effort in recent years.

The same year, Senator Juan Hinojosa introduced Texas Senate Bill 736 to push for a sports betting legislation framework. Another Senate proposal followed to legalize mobile sports betting. However, just like the first bill, these proposals failed to gain enough support to become law.

The major obstacle to legalizing gambling in Texas lies in the political space. Some lawmakers, especially those in urban areas, are more receptive to the idea, whereas others are less inclined to pass a bill allowing such legislation. This political divide has caused a rift, leading to a halt in any legislative efforts to legalize gambling.

The public, on the other hand, has a different disposition. According to public polls in Texas, a large number of residents are in favor of expanding gambling options in the state. This shift in public opinion, especially toward sports gambling, pressures legislators to reconsider the state’s present laws.

Possible future changes

While it may seem unlikely that Texas will implement new rules in favor of gambling, there remains the possibility that such changes will occur. But this depends on several factors, including:

  • Federal Action: If the federal law comes into play, requiring that every state in the US permit wagering activities, then Texas has no choice but to lift its restrictions.
  • Economic Considerations: The legal sports betting and the casino gaming world holds much potential for revenue generation. As such, if the state’s economy ever sees the need for extra revenue, it may develop an interest in the gambling sector as a source.
  • Neighboring Competition: Other states in the same region as Texas have begun embracing gambling options. As a result, Texas may face increased pressure to compete for gambling revenue.

Comparing Texas Gambling Laws to Other States

It’s no longer news that Texas stands out from neighboring states concerning gambling regulations. Where other states surrounding the Lone Star State have embraced and legalized different forms of gambling, Texas stands firm in its restrictions. It redefines “Lone Star State,” doesn’t it?

However, residents should note that these strict laws on gambling by Texas did not just spawn from nowhere. The state’s strict stance is a result of social, moral, and religious concerns, with many stating the potential gambling addiction that could become the new rave. These strict laws are also a result of the state’s financial priority, which already sees Texas spending heavily on oil and gas, putting gambling regulations a little lower on the list of priorities.

On the other hand, some states surrounding Texas permitting gambling activities include:

  • Louisiana: There are many land-based casinos and online gambling sites for sports in Louisiana.
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma recently passed bills legalizing mobile sports betting, but casinos on tribal lands have always been supported.
  • New Mexico: This state has commercial brick-and-mortar casinos with several laws rendering sports betting legal.

Gambling Laws

Benefits of Consulting SEO Marketing Experts Like Fortis Media

Texas does not offer a broader range of gambling options compared to its neighbors. As a result, navigating the legalities in US offshore sites can get complex, and this is where requesting guidance from marketing specialists like Fortis Media becomes valuable. Our services are beneficial to your casino gaming or sports betting journey in the following ways:

  • Marketing Savvy: Marketing agencies with expert knowledge of the gambling industry, like Fortis Media, can help gift enterprises looking to expand into the industry. Such agencies assist gift enterprises and other businesses in navigating gambling legalities in each state.
  • SEO Specialization: A solid SEO strategy is important for iGaming and sports betting businesses to drive more website traffic. We help such enterprises appear at the top of search results, allowing them to establish their brand and credibility.
  • Market Research and Analysis: We help iGaming businesses identify the most promising markets. In doing so, we consider legal restrictions and target demographics, using the information gathered to tailor a marketing strategy for your business. We also help with risk assessment for new or emerging business models.
  • Digital Strategy Development: Tailoring your brand’s campaigns to your target market determines your betting company’s success. We at Fortis Media are here to curate the best digital marketing solution for your brand.
  • Regulatory Compliance: At Fortis Media, we have many clients in different states, giving us a wealth of knowledge on the regulatory framework in each state. As such, we can ensure your enterprise’s marketing campaigns adhere to all applicable laws and regulations.

The above shows why Fortis Media is your best shot at optimizing your operations within legal constraints. Don’t let Texas’ complex gambling restrictions limit your business’s growth. Let us assist you in promoting your business despite the state’s challenging legalities – contact us for a quick consultation.

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Key Takeaways

As mentioned in this write-up, Texas laws frown on any form of gambling, including sports betting in Texas and casino games. Its regulations make it a state with one of the strictest gambling restrictions in the United States, dishing out penalties to those found engaging in the offense.

However, in recent times, these laws have been facing opposition and criticism from Senate Republicans, implying there may be some change on the horizon. Also, keep in mind that the national trend in the US currently gravitates towards gambling legalization. As a result, Texas may have no choice but to lift its tight restrictions, however slight.

But for now and till then, Texans looking to engage in gambling activities have no choice but to participate in the limited options. Either that or they travel to neighboring states with more permissive laws, hoping Texas relaxes its strict policies soonest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Is online gambling legal in Texas?

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    No, online gambling for real money is not a legal venture in Texas. However, other alternatives, like sweepstakes and social casinos, offer free-to-play casino games such as slot machines and table games.

  • Can I legally bet on sports in Texas?

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    Despite multiple legal battles, sports betting in Texas is not currently legal. However, there are signs that this could change shortly. As it stands, using sports betting apps to gamble for real money is illegal.

  • Are there any legal poker rooms in Texas?

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    Yes, there are. Although the Texas constitution strictly prohibits most forms of gambling, certain private clubs operate within a gray area. They take advantage of a legal loophole that allows them to have poker rooms where they charge a monthly membership and hourly fee.

  • What are the penalties for illegal gambling in Texas?

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    The penalty for illegally playing on online gambling sites or participating in sports betting in Texas is a maximum potential fine of up to $500. This offense is considered a Class C misdemeanor, as determined by the Texas Penal Code 47.02. However, anyone caught engaging in gambling promotion, including sports betting promotion, gets convicted under Penal Code 47.03, an offense warranting up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.

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