Gambling in Texas is severely restricted—unless you count the bingo offered by charitable organizations. There are only 2 casinos and a handful of racing tracks.
Horse and greyhound racing is spread across the state at 8 different tracks. All 8 allow wagering onsite. Off-track betting (OTB) is illegal in the state, although residents can utilize several available online sites which take horse-racing bets.
Gambling, in the form of cards or slots, is illegal in the state. Tribal lands are exempt from this law and Native American tribes have the legal right to open casinos. This is due to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. While three tribal casinos have opened in the last 20+ years, only two remain. All have had a hard uphill battle against the state to open and remain so.
Similarly, online gambling is illegal. Social casino sites do exist for those Texas residents who want to play poker or slots just for fun.
Recent Texas legal gambling news
Both New Jersey and Texas are searching for workarounds for existing gambling law to bring poker and online casinos to more people.
Three states offer legal online poker or online casinos. But there are many other ways to legally gamble online in the US, with even more in the pipeline.
Land-based slots environment
Texas is the single greatest tragedy of gambling. Nowhere else can you find an area so steeped in gambling tradition with so few legal options available.
The most famous poker game in the world is named after the state itself, and yet, Texans are unable to play within the borders of the state.
Except for home games, a thriving underground scene, and two somewhat-difficult-to-access casinos – of which one is still fighting the state attorney general for its right to legally exist — Texans must drive to nearby states to play their preferred game of chance. Even the most recent available study from 2013 pegged Texans’ annual spend in these border casinos just shy of $3 billion.
For slots players who don’t want to drive to Oklahoma, Louisiana, or New Mexico, there aren’t many good options in the Lone Star State. Unfortunately, many gamblers turn to underground eight-liner parlors. These operate illegally out of strip centers and business parks. They are constantly in danger of either being raided by law enforcement or robbed, sometimes with violent results.
Other than that, Texans have two options – Lucky Eagle Casino and Naskila Entertainment Center.
While both casinos deserve attention, it’s important to realize that the sheer landmass of Texas is part of the reason these two options are so inadequate. In a smaller state, such as Delaware, two or three casinos might be enough to serve a statewide population of just under a million and a land area of around 2,500 square miles.
By contrast, Texas is the second-most populous state in the country (with 29 million and growing). It’s also the second-largest by area – a whopping 268,597 square-mile piece of ground. So, even though Texas does, in fact, have two casinos, driving to them is an arduous proposition.
The first casino of note is the Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass. Located within sight of the Mexican border, the Lucky Eagle is located on the Kickapoo reservation.
Due to their federal recognition under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Kickapoos opened the doors in 1996. The tribe has slowly but steadily built the property into a decent-sized affair. It is home to over 3,300 slot machines, a poker room, a bingo parlor, and several restaurants. There’s also a full-service hotel on the grounds. Just as a reference, this casino is about an hour-and-a-half by car from San Antonio. However, it’s three hours from Austin, five hours from Houston, and five hours or more from Dallas.
The other option is the newly-reopened Naskila Entertainment Center. This casino stands on the Alabama-Coushatta tribal lands just east of Livingston, a small town 90 miles northeast from Houston.
Legal threats to tribal casinos
Between 1999 and 2002, the tribe ran a small casino that featured poker, slot machines, and a few table games. The casino had to close its doors due to legal action on the part of the state. Now, due to a ruling from the National Indian Gaming Commission in 2015, the tribe is tentatively offering a few hundred Class II machines for play. (Meaning that they are technically lottery machines, rather than bona fide slots.)
Even so, the state continues to pursue its case against both open casinos, plus a separate case against the Tigua tribe in El Paso, which operated Speaking Rock Casino until the same dark day in 2002. Then, they operated as a sweepstakes parlor until June 2016, when those activities were also shut down via court order. The Tiguas, for their part, are pledging to keep Speaking Rock open as a concert venue. But were the casino to be open, it would still only benefit residents of the El Paso metro, which is at least eight hours drive from any other Texas city.
All in all, the tale of gambling in Texas is a sad ballad. It’s filled with fines, arrests, and crime. Additionally, a rigid legislature is too happy to accept money from casinos in neighboring states on the promise of keeping Texas casino-free. This includes the sitting governor, whose 2014 disclosures showed his largest out-of-state donation came from the Chickasaw Nation, owners of WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma.
Land-based slots options
|Property||Location||Number of Slots|
|Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino||Eagle Pass||3,300+|
|Naskila Entertainment Center||Livingston||365|
Online gambling options
The state of Texas is equally hostile to the prospect of online gambling as it is to the real-world equivalent. Under Texas law, even office pools are technically illegal, though this aspect is largely ignored.
Social casino site options
Texans only have the standard social casino sites available to them. Zynga, Slotomania, Big Fish, and Double Down have to suffice for casual players.
Texas players can also play on the MyVegas site for comps. However, the closest sites for redeeming earned prizes would be MGM-branded properties in Tunica or Biloxi – both in Mississippi.
Speaking Rock Casino (defunct)
Speaking Rock Casino was in El Paso. Owned by the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe, the casino was in operation as a bona fide gambling facility from 1993 to 2002.
It offered 1,500 slot machines, table games, poker, and bingo. Then, after state authorities shut the gambling down, the center offered sweepstakes games that were a pale shadow of the hall’s former glory. Even though revenues shrank to a fourth of their former levels, the building continued to offer some state residents opportunities to play for money.
In 2016, however, even the sweepstakes games were ordered to cease, officially killing the opportunity for games of chance at Speaking Rock. There was a slight chance that the tribe would offer bingo to patrons. Unfortunately, other bingo operators in town filed amicus briefs to bar them from doing so, citing competitive pressures.
All in all, the tale of Speaking Rock has been a depressing one, borne solely out of a toxic legislative combination on the state level of reactionary social politics and campaign donations with conflicts of interest that are so manifestly obvious, it would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.
It’s not the will of the people by any means. It’s the will of the politicians. They find an easy target in gambling because it’s not high on most people’s priority lists. As long as that fact remains true, gambling will never happen in Texas — except the lottery and horse racing of course.
State Legal Environment
|Permitted/Offered?||Notes & Restrictions|
|Land-Based Gambling||No||Even the Native American tribes are struggling to offer gambling on reservation lands.|
|Online Gambling||No||Just no.|
|Lottery||Yes||Residents are eligible for state lottery, Mega Millions and Powerball.|
|Charitable or House-Based Gambling||Yes||Bingo parlors can operate as long as they are run as non-profits; home-based gambling is allowed as long as the house doesn’t take any kind of rake – even a membership fee or tips.|
|Minimum Gambling Age||18 for the lottery, horseracing venues, and dog racing venues|