Everything is bigger in Texas. Unfortunately, that expression extends to its opposition to gambling, whether live or online. At this point, there’s little reason to suspect that any expansion of legal gambling, be it sports betting, online casinos or poker, is imminent in the state. We’re not saying that it’s fruitless, but legal online casinos in Texas are about as likely as a No. 16 seed defeating a No. 1 seed during March Madness. It might happen, but only a fool would bet on it.
Sadly, even though expansion has significant support among the electorate, the entrenched legislative establishment remains committed to a (mostly) gambling-free Texas.
Texas is likely to be one of the last holdouts for online casinos, based upon its history, but you never know what might happen. In the meantime, here is the lowdown on everything happening with online gambling, online casinos and gambling in general in the Lone Star State.
Is online gambling legal in Texas?
No. There are no legal online gambling options available in Texas. Even among states that are generally anti-gambling, Texas takes things farther than most. Obviously, the state does not permit mainstream online gambling options like online casinos, online poker and online sports betting. However, even common exceptions in gambling-resistant states, like daily fantasy sports or online horse betting, are either legally shaky or prohibited outright.
The only exception to the barren state of online gambling in Texas is sweepstakes sites. Although Texas maintains extensive rules on how to conduct sweepstakes legally in the state, existing sweepstakes sites are mostly able to navigate the statutes and stay within the law. Here are some of the top sweepstakes sites available in Texas:
- Chumba Casino
- LuckyLand Slots
- Global Poker
Are online casinos legal in Texas?
No. Online casino play is not legal in Texas, the same as most other types of gambling. However, if you’ve been searching the web about this issue recently, you might see some statements to the contrary. Let’s talk about why we’re saying no and they’re saying yes.
Texas’ gambling law is both simple and broad. It contains three major elements, as defined by the state itself. You commit a violation if you do any of the following:
- Make 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.
- Make a bet on the result of any political nomination, appointment or election or on the degree of success of any nominee, appointee or candidate.
- Play and bet for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls or any other gambling device.
Although the statute goes on to define certain exceptions, such as private games, lotteries or (live) pari-mutuel racing, the idea of gambling in Texas is unequivocally illegal. The law, however, makes no specific mention of online gambling. Many online gambling advocates use this absence as evidence of online gambling’s legality in the state — even Texas-based attorneys say as much.
However, it only takes the “Eye of Sauron” of the attorney general’s office to swing toward online gambling for the heat to intensify. It’s never a good idea to engage in an activity that bears the potential of putting you into the legal crosshairs, and playing on online casinos that are, at best, in legal limbo is definitely a way to do that. Simply put: It is a bad idea to gamble online in Texas right now.
Can you play slots online in Texas?
Absolutely not. As is the case with most gambling, including every kind of online gambling, it is not legal to play slot games online in Texas. Bear in mind, this state is a place that has not made up its mind about allowing DFS to proceed and even put horse racing on the chopping block at one point due to the racing commission’s ill-fated decision to allow betting on historical horse races.
The only options that you can pursue with any kind of legal confidence are sweepstakes sites such as Chumba Casino, LuckyLand Slots and Funzpoints, all of which offer slot games. You can also find table games like online blackjack at Chumba, and there are poker games, table games and even a few slot titles on Global Poker.
Sweepstakes are the only option for online slot play in Texas. Otherwise, you risk running afoul of Texas law, and although the offense is in the same class of crime as a speeding ticket, it’s simply not worth the hassle.
Will Texas regulate online gambling in the future?
Probably not. The truth of the matter is that any expansion of gambling in Texas, online or otherwise, is going to come as a surprise to those who have lived there for a decent amount of time. Even as online gambling and sports betting expand across the nation — including in neighboring Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico — there is just too high of a legislative hurdle to move past in Texas.
Texas is extremely rich in resources and commerce and suffers from a relatively small budget deficit (in comparison to other states). So, the primary driver for gambling expansion — budget shortfalls — is not nearly as strong as it is elsewhere in the country.
In case the strength of the opposition isn’t clear, consider the following: A recent news story reported that more than half of all Texans (57%) favor the legalization of casinos in the state. Furthermore, only 29% of survey respondents were against expansion — the rest didn’t care. Similarly, 74% (43% for, 31% indifferent) reported either positive or neutral feelings about sports betting coming to Texas.
Yet there is no particular optimism about a casino bill making any headway in the Texas Legislature. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a longtime gambling opponent, stated in February 2021 that sports betting was “not going to see the light of day this session.” Let that sink in. State lawmakers are secure enough in their positions that they can confidently refuse to support legislation that, in some cases, more than half their constituents support.
In short, even though there are active bills within the Legislature to bring both casinos and sports betting to Texas, it’s extremely unlikely that they will pass. With the odd exception of the 1997 session, there has been a bill to authorize casino gambling in Texas during every biennial legislative session since 1993. Every single one of them has failed. Hence our reference to a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed. Texas is still waiting for a University of Maryland, Baltimore County to come along.
Legal online gambling vs. offshore sites
Unless it’s a sweepstakes site like the ones listed above, the casino sites accepting Texas players are based offshore. While the legality of playing at an online gambling site in Texas is debatable, the real worries have nothing to do with the chance of a fine or police knocking on your door. Offshore sites carry risks that make playing on them less than ideal.
First and foremost, because they are not based in the US, they are not regulated. Therefore, they are not subject to the laws of either Texas or the US. If you encounter an issue, you may have no options to resolve it.
Second, there is no guarantee that a reliable consumer watchdog group or service like the Better Business Bureau is available to keep tabs on the company’s practices or legitimacy. You can never be sure if you are dealing with a legitimate enterprise. Although most offshore sites do advertise that they are regulated by various bodies, it’s also hard to know if these regulators have any kind of actual authority to monitor the companies and sites themselves.
Finally, the offshore site may fall short from a technical standpoint — especially when it comes to account security. Remember, you are submitting personal and financial information to any gambling site, so a successful hack could result in some very sensitive material getting into the wrong hands.
The reality is that, outside of the aforementioned sweepstakes sites, there really isn’t anything to do in Texas but wait. It’s always possible that one of these attempts to legalize casinos will pan out, but, for the moment, it doesn’t seem like online casinos in Texas are in the cards. Stay safe and play at sweepstakes casinos instead.
Who will regulate online gambling in Texas?
Online gambling remains illegal in Texas. However, when and if online gambling becomes a legal option, it’s not immediately clear which agency would oversee the new industry’s procedures because there is no defined gambling commission in the state.
- The most likely candidate is probably the Texas Lottery Commission. This commission oversees both lottery games and charitable bingo, and there is an established precedent in other states. West Virginia, Tennessee and New Hampshire allow the state lottery commission to act as the de facto gambling commission.
- Another possible option to regulate online gambling in Texas is the Texas Racing Commission. The TRC oversees several horse and greyhound tracks in the state. Each facility offers pari-mutuel wagering for live racing, and most of them offer simulcast betting options, too. So it’s conceivable that the racing commission could regulate online gambling in Texas.
- A third option would be a newly created Texas Casino Commission. Many of the attempts to legalize gambling in Texas since 1993 have specifically called for the formation of such an agency. Given the lack of experience the state has with gambling, a freshly created entity might be the way to go.
Of course, at this point, these suggestions are simply speculation. Texas is not terribly close to allowing online gambling, so the question is relatively moot for the time being.
What is the legal gambling age in Texas?
The legal gambling age in Texas is 18. Eighteen-year-olds are able to take part in the state’s lottery offerings, pari-mutuel betting and charitable gaming. In addition, the lone full-service tribal casino in the state, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel, requires patrons to be at least 18. Naskila Gaming in Livingston, which is operating under a legal cloud, at best, has a 21 and older mandate for its facility, but that seems to be due to the site’s desire to serve alcohol more than the fact that it offers gambling.
Types of legal gambling in Texas
Despite our pessimism about the state of gambling in Texas and its prospects for expansion, it would be inaccurate to say that there are no types of legal gambling in Texas. If we were to imagine a spectrum of gambling options for every state in the union, with Utah at one end and New Jersey at the other, Texas would definitely be closer to the Beehive State.
However, there are definitely some ways for citizens and inhabitants of Texas to place a wager legally on a regular basis. Here are the legal gambling options in Texas:
- Pari-mutuel wagering
- Tribal casinos
- Charitable games
- DFS (disputed)
- Private poker clubs (disputed)
- Home poker games
Two of those options are not in terribly stable positions in terms of legality. Both have drawn the attention of various law enforcement agencies in the state, and their long-term futures as providers are anything but certain. The first of these is daily fantasy sports. The question about whether DFS is legal in Texas has been going around and around lawmakers and enforcement officials for years.
The other type of gambling on questionable legal footing in Texas is its growing list of private poker clubs. These clubs began to pop up around 2015 and have stayed in service due to a creative business model. Online poker in Texas is most definitely illegal, but these poker clubs have figured out a tricky way to do business — no rake, no tipping from game chips, door charges — that circumvents Texas gambling law by satisfying its letter, though decidedly not its spirit.
The first, and most obvious, way to gamble is by playing the Texas lottery. The Texas Lottery offers options for draw games and scratch tickets at a variety of retail establishments, including convenience stores and grocery stores. Lottery sales are not available through the internet, over the phone or across state lines. The Texas Lottery operates its own set of state-only draw games. In addition, the state commission allows citizens to participate in multi-state drawings such as Powerball and Mega Millions.
Texas horse racing and dog racing
Another way to gamble in Texas is through its various racetracks. Texas has legal horse and dog racing, and both types of tracks permit pari-mutuel wagering onsite. In addition, many of the tracks maintain simulcast facilities for betting on races in other locations. However, Texas residents and visitors are not permitted to place wagers on races online, whether the race is occurring inside the state or not.
- Gillespie Fair & Festivals (horses)
- Lone Star Park (horses)
- Retama Park (horses)
- Sam Houston Race Park (horses)
- Gulf Coast Racing (greyhound)
- Valley Race Park (greyhound)
Charitable bingo halls in Texas
Texas is also home to many large-scale charitable bingo halls. Naturally, these locations must provide their proceeds to registered nonprofit organizations inside the state. However, they are a common sight, and each must operate within strict guidelines to remain a legal entity. In addition, other charitable gaming, such as raffle drawings and casino nights, are legal in the state.
Are there land-based casinos in Texas?
Yes. There are two. Both are tribal locations. Only one is sure to be in service long-term. The other could be shut down if court proceedings don’t pan out. So, yes, Texas has land-based casinos, we guess.
- Address: 794 Lucky Eagle Drive, Eagle Pass, Texas
- Phone: 888-255-8259
- Tribe: Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas
- Slots: Yes
- Table games: No
- Live poker: Yes
- Other games: Bingo
The Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel is the only true casino in Texas. It is the only place in Texas where one can play slot machines or dealer-managed poker without fear of legal hassles. Unfortunately, it is also located on the border between the United States and Mexico and is more than two hours from San Antonio, the nearest city of note. Most Texans have not visited this property, many have never heard of it, and those who do know about it typically do so only because it’s a bit of Texas trivia.
- Address: 540 State Park Road 56, Livingston, Texas
- Phone: 936-563-2946
- Tribe: Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas
- Slots: Yes
- Table games: No
- Live poker: No
- Other games: No
Naskila Gaming is a slots-only casino owned and operated by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. There are roughly 800 machines onsite, all bingo-based devices to allow the casino to retain a Class II designation. It is located in Livingston, roughly an hour north of Houston.
However, Naskila Gaming’s legal status is nothing short of a mess. The site operates under a stayed judicial injunction that found the tribe to be in violation of Texas law, but enforcement is on hold while the tribe continues to fight in other courts. The Alabama-Coushattas, along with fellow Texas tribe Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, continue to struggle because of their varied status as federally recognized tribes. The state of Texas has argued (successfully, so far) that neither tribe has standing under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allows tribes around the country to offer casino gambling. The Ysletas have bowed to the ruling and shut down their operations. The Coushattas continue to fight, so Naskila stays open — for now.
Types of games at Texas casinos
As you might imagine, there are only a limited number of games available in Texas casinos. In fact, fans of table games are going to be quite disappointed in the Lone Star State, as there are no blackjack, roulette or craps tables in service within state lines (legally, anyway). So, such as they are, here are the types of games that you can find in legal establishments in Texas:
- Live poker
- Charitable bingo
- Pari-mutuel wagering at horse tracks and greyhound tracks
- Lottery games
Responsible gambling in Texas
Unfortunately, Texas is in a rather ignoble category when it comes to addressing residents with gambling addiction. There are no dedicated public resources to deal with problem gambling in Texas on an institutional level. Consequently, problem gamblers in Texas have few options.
The Texas Council on Problem Gambling has failed to receive any kind of support or official recognition. The agency is not certified by the National Council on Problem Gambling, and does not receive any kind of budget from the state. The NCPG’s page on Texas lists no primary resource for gambling addiction services.
Furthermore, the Texas Department of State Health Services, which the NCPG identifies as the likely overseer for responsible gambling resources in the state, does not have a dedicated section or even a mention of problem gambling. The only immediate source of aid for problem gamblers is the NCPG’s helpline, which is available via call or text at 1-800-522-4700. You can also try the organization’s live chat function, if you like.
There is no centralized resource for self-exclusion in Texas, either. The state government does not maintain a list of prohibited people who cannot stop gambling. Any self-exclusion happens on a venue-by-venue basis at Texas racetracks. The lottery is an even bigger problem, since there is no need for a paper trail or identification to purchase a lottery ticket.
So, unfortunately, the most active strides against problem gambling in Texas are the support groups common to other locations.
Each provides the level of assistance that they can, connecting problem gamblers with others nearby who are on a similar road to recovery. In other states, these groups tend to act as auxiliary resources for gambling addicts and problem gamblers. In Texas, they’re pretty much all anyone’s got.
History of gambling in Texas
Texas wasn’t always like this with regard to gambling. The state was every bit the Wild West destination of lore and legend. To give you an idea of how things used to be, this section will list some of the biggest dates in Texas gambling history.
However, before we talk about the timeline, let’s set the stage. Texas has changed hands and ruling governments many times over the years. In fact, the amusement park chain Six Flags Over Texas is so named because of the commonly acknowledged number of national flags that Texas has raised at one time or another. For three centuries, Texas existed as a part of Spain’s New Spain viceroyalty, a piece of land that would become the First Mexican Republic in 1821. Texas remained a territory of the newly formed Mexico until the area won its own independence in 1836. For those hundreds of years, Texas was the edge of the frontier, and gambling was commonplace throughout the entirety of the viceroyalty.
Even with its victory at San Jacinto, the Republic of Texas had no intention of changing the permissive environment regarding gambling in the territory. Each major city or town in Texas maintained entire sections dedicated to activities such as gambling, prostitution and drinking. The areas were well-known and bore fanciful names, like Fort Worth’s “Hell’s Half-Acre,” Dallas’ “Frogtown” and Houston’s “Happy Hollow.” The largest of these vice areas in Texas was San Antonio’s “Sporting District,” which is where our first notable event takes place.
Carlotta J. Thompkins, aka “Lottie Deno,” comes to San Antonio as one of the earliest female professional gamblers in Texas or US history. The Kentuckian is renowned as one of the finest poker players of her era and began working at the University Club as a house gambler. Though Deno would leave Texas after roughly 12 years of activity, she helps to establish Texas as a gambling destination — a reputation that also sees the likes of Doc Holliday and other prominent gambling figures of the Old West make a stop in the state. Ironically, one of the only types of gambling banned in Texas during this period is the lottery.
Spurred on by the Progressive Movement, the Texas Legislature bans all forms of gambling outright. This prohibition is the first in Texas of a series of both state and federal reforms to attack different types of vice. The new law is part of a growing sentiment in the US regarding unsavory activities such as drugs and prostitution. Opium usage is banned by federal law in 1909. Marijuana, once available in general stores and pharmacies, is outlawed in Texas in 1919. Prostitution is banned throughout the US by virtue of 1910’s Mann Act, which precipitates the closure of the state’s various vice districts. The movement culminates in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which bans alcohol in all forms in the US.
The unintended consequence of the “Noble Experiment” (the 18th Amendment) is the mobilizing and motivation of organized criminal elements in most of the country’s populated areas. This time is the heyday of Al Capone in Chicago, and Texas has its own answer to “Scarface” in the form of the Maceos. Italian-born brothers Sam and Rosario Maceo move from nearby Louisiana to Galveston in 1910 to work as barbers. However, the two quickly realize that more profit is in vice, so they begin serving drinks. The two open the Chop Suey gambling hall in 1923. This location goes through many incarnations before settling upon its most famous — The Balinese Room. The Balinese Room grows to be one of the most famous gambling halls in the entire country and hosts entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Groucho Marx. The high-class-yet-illegal operation, which exists on a pier extending into the Gulf of Mexico, lasts until 1957, when it is finally raided and closed.
Pari-mutuel wagering on horse and greyhound races finally becomes legal for good in Texas. The legalization ends more than 50 years of back and forth between lawmakers and the electorate over the issue. The Texas Legislature initially authorized horse betting back in 1933, but it was rendered illegal four years later during a special legislative session. Much like other gambling expansions in this state, there were many attempts in subsequent years to bring it back, including the notable election of Red Berry to the House and Senate in the 1960s on the single-plank platform of bringing pari-mutuel wagering back to Texas. Berry does not live to see legal horse betting in Texas, but continued interest culminates in the 1987 legalization. Four years later, simulcast betting becomes legal in the state.
Fresh on the heels of expansion into horse and dog racing, Texas decides to add lottery games to the mixture of gambling available in the state. The legislature votes to approve HB 54 during the 72nd Legislative Session, and a signature from Gov. Ann Richards amends the Texas Constitution to allow the Texas Lottery Commission to be born. The commission begins selling tickets (scratch, then draw) in May 1992, with Richards purchasing the first ticket. Texas ultimately joins the multi-state drawings Mega Millions and Powerball in 2003 and 2010, respectively. Lottery tickets are available in most convenience stores and grocery stores throughout the state.
Since Powerball came to Texas in 2010, there have been no significant increases to the state’s gambling profile in any sort of meaningful way. As mentioned earlier, there are options for playing DFS and poker in the state, but these are functioning under a legal cloud and are in no way resolved as permanent fixtures. You can read more about gambling law in Texas here.