Texas Real Money Online Gambling Guide

Texas may be thought to be a hotbed for gambling, and Texas prides itself on the idea that things are bigger in their state, but this sure does not apply to real money gambling. In spite of the state having the game of Texas Hold’em being named after them, Texans have always been limited to playing it at either home games or illegal ones.

Texas is particularly opposed to gambling in general, and the people of Texas have remained primarily on the side of the government throughout the state’s history, where gambling is looked down upon generally and is now only allowed on a very limited basis to state residents.

This does not mean that you cannot gamble all you want when residing in Texas, although if you rely on government sources or even casual observers, you will end up with a poor understanding of the gambling landscape in Texas.

We’re here to explain what really is going on as far as Texas online casinos and gambling goes, and in particular, why it really does not matter what people say about the access Texans have to gambling because there’s just no way that anyone who wishes to gamble in Texas can be stopped from enjoying it all they please, if you know how to do it that is.

History of Gambling in Texas

Texas Online Casinos and SlotsPeople have been gambling in Texas since the horses and wagons arrived, in spite of what the law may have said. Texas has permitted a very limited amount of gambling, and for most of the state’s history, no gambling at all was permitted.

This was the case up until 1993, when the State legalized pari-mutuel wagering at horse and greyhound race tracks. Even this was too much for the appetite of the Texas government of the day and this wagering only lasted 4 years and was appealed in 1937.

It took 50 years and a statewide referendum to bring back legal gambling to Texas, where pari-mutuel wagering became approved again. Much of this period was during a time where it was the norm to allow betting on the outcome of horse races, and this shows just how conservative Texas has been and still is where gambling is concerned.

This was around the time where cruise ships started offering “cruises to nowhere,” day trips that took passengers into international waters to play casino games. Texas has had casino sailings since, but not without a hard fight from Texas authorities who made laws to try to exclude these ships from docking at their ports.

The lottery finally came to Texas in 1992. Aside from the lottery and horse race betting, Texas does permit social gambling done in private and with no one other than players gaining financially from the game.

Like in other states, Indian casinos sprung up in Texas as well, although Texas only has three tribes that are eligible. They each initially built their own casinos, and can normally do so without interference from a state government, but in the case of two of these tribes, another law was found to take precedence over the enabling act benefiting tribal gaming.

Two of the three Indian casinos were closed down by court order, and while they have since re-opened, due to a further ruling more in their favor, the State of Texas remains interested in trying to shut them down or restrict their activities as much as they can.

Texas is famous for gambling, and the stories of the old road gamblers such as Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim are rich and entertaining, but none of this was done legally. These gamblers had to fight to stay one step ahead of the law, and were not always successful. Texans still love to gamble, and they definitely do a lot of it, but as far as land-based gaming goes in Texas, virtually all of it remains outside the law.

Texas Gambling Laws

The Texas Penal Code separates illegal gambling into 3 types. The first provision makes betting on contests illegal, the second prohibits betting on political races, and the third prohibits betting on “any game played with cards, dice, balls, or any other gambling device.”

There are actually lawyers in Texas who misinterpret the first provision as making all gambling, including all online real money gambling, illegal because it “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.” This involves a very careless reading of the law because while game is used both in this section and the one involving playing with gambling devices, the meaning in this section must be distinct from that, where game here means an event like a game of sport rather than a game of chance.

It does make all betting on sporting events illegal though, and if you are located in Texas and found to be betting on such a contest or game, this section does trap you every time, regardless of the channel that the bet is made through, in person, over the telephone, by any electronic communication, or any other means.

The provision dealing with betting with gambling devices prohibits any gambling involving the listed devise of “cards, dice, balls, or any other gambling device.” Gambling device is defined in the law as any “contrivance” that is used to wager with. The use of the term “contrivance” distinguishes a gambling device from which the gambling is contrived with anything that merely communicates the wager, like using a telephone or an electronic device.

There is no question that gambling with physical devices to place wagers based upon chance or skill is illegal under Texas law, and it even spells out various casino games and any sort of gambling device such as a slot machine that may allow one to place such bets through it.

Many believe this to also include placing bets over the internet, but for this to apply we would need a gambling device to be used, but the telephone or computing devices cannot be understood to be gambling devices under this law because to qualify as a gambling device, the gambling must be contrived by the device, which requires that the device be set up for this purpose, and not just as a channel of communication generally that happen to access gambling.

Online gambling for real money is not contrived on your computer, your computer accesses gambling that is contrived through other means. When you watch a TV show, your television hasn’t contrived the show, nor does a telephone contrive a conversation, or does interacting with a gambling server elsewhere on your computer contrive the gambling, nor could any of these devices be understood as gambling devices, devices set up for gambling in some way. Your voice isn’t a gambling device even though it can be used to place bets through vocalization.

This law did ban all known means of physical gambling at the time, as the only bets that you could place other than being present physically and using gambling devices was to place bets on sports over the telephone, and sports betting becomes effectively banned entirely in the first section of the law.

This is a case where the law neither contemplated online betting nor was effectively updated to include it once this type of betting did become available. There are states where the applicability of its gambling provisions to online gambling is unclear, but Texas is not one of them, as this clearly excludes gambling online as it clearly is not addressed in the provided definitions of illegal wagering.

Land Based Gambling in Texas

The Texas Lottery has been operating since 1992, and since then, they have handed out a total of $65 billion in prizes to Texans. They offer a wide selection of lottery games which are offered at locations throughout the state to those 18 years of age and older.

Texas’ approach to real money gambling appears to take issue with not so much the gambling itself these days, but with the commercialization of it. You can’t run a poker room or be caught playing at one, and all land-based gambling not otherwise authorized is a criminal offense, as is the promotion of commercial gambling or even possessing gambling paraphernalia used for this purpose, but you can host a home game.

As long as gambling is offered in a private place, no one gains financially from it other than their personal gambling winnings, and the game does not involve cheating, any sort of gambling is permissible under Texas law. Texas’ home game gambling laws are the most permissible in the country, free of other conditions, including the size of stakes or the need to obtain any license or other approval. Should someone actually be charged being at or running a home game, showing that it is a non-commercial game is a full defense.

Charitable organizations are permitted to offer bingo and sell pull-tab games as long as the county they are in has authorized the practice by passing local referendums. The fact that Texas would need a county referendum to approve charitable bingo games, along with the fact that 28 of their 254 counties have said no to this, tells you just how difficult it is for both the government and even the people to agree to gambling in this state.

Games are limited to a maximum of 3 per week per organization, with a maximum prize set at $750. 1,200 organizations offer it in Texas, generating $55 million in revenue from it per year. Charitable organizations are also allowed to hold up to 2 raffles per year, with prizes limited to $50,000, or a maximum of $250,000 if the prize is a house.

Texas also allows for “game rooms” to operate provided that they offer non-cash prizes of $5 or less. According to officials, these game rooms are almost universally used to flaunt the law and offer black-market gambling with cash prizes. These rooms are called eight-liners, due to the restriction of a maximum of 8 gambling machines per room, and Texas authorities regularly bust these games through sting operations.

Texas authorities have been wrestling with the gambling cruise liners since they first emerged in the state in the 1980’s, devising several rules like how long they had to be at sea or whether they had to dock at an international port of call between dockings to try to keep these ships away. Between this and lower than desired demand for these cruises, these cruise ships struggled to stay in business with almost all either going under or moving to a different state. There is only one casino cruise still operating, the Jacks or Better Casino sailing out of Galveston.

Texas also closely regulates its para-mutuel racing, only allowing 3 Class 1 tracks in the state that can offer unlimited race days. Class 2 tracks can offer up to 60 racing dates per year, but none are currently in operation in the state. They also issue Class 3 licences and Class 4 licenses to county fairs, but only one Class 3 licence and no Class 4 licences are operational.

Texas also has Indian gaming, and all 3 of its federally recognized Indian tribes ended up building casinos once Congress passed the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision making Indian gaming legal. Two of the three tribes had their not having the right to offer gambling included in the Restoration Act that made them a federally recognized tribe, and the courts in Texas have recognized this as pre-empting any rights conveyed to them under the IGRA.

The state shut down these two operations on this basis, leaving only one tribe to operate a tribal casino, the Kickapoo Casino, which offers bingo, poker, a variant of blackjack, and pull-tab games. The other two, the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta tribes, were allowed to re-open by virtue of a decision by the National Indian Gaming Commission in 2015, but their battle with the State of Texas in the courts continues.

Texas Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

In spite of some Texans wanting to see online gambling becoming regulated, Texas is not a state that is very open to gambling in general, so any progress in this area will be slow. A lot of states have allowed for online sports betting these days, but Texas remains a laggard, with legislation for this being proposed but it not really getting off the ground yet, with no real timeline.

It is currently clearly illegal to bet on sports in Texas, as it is expressly prohibited, but Texas’ prohibitions does not extend to partaking in playing poker or real money casino & slots games online. This is in spite of all the misunderstandings out there which hold that the current law does prohibit it.

It does require a careful reading of the law to determine that it does not, where people assume that because they ban wagering on games based upon dice, cards or balls, the law clearly refers to the use of mechanical devices of this sort, physical objects in other words, and not those based upon the process of random number generation that have results where these objects are not used but instead provided as a visual representation only.

This then requires that we understand computers and mobile devices as gambling devices under the definition that the penal code provides, which clearly does not fit either. There is a difference between a gambling device, one that is used explicitly to gamble with, and devices that are used to travel elsewhere in the world virtually to gamble there, and it is only gambling devices that are prohibited.

The Texas Penal Code simply did not contemplate the existence of online gambling, and has not been updated to include it. As the law stands, there are no prohibitions included in Texas law against online gambling at all. In any case, with online gambling, you can’t really prosecute these activities even where they are illegal, because it is not practical to do so, and no one ever gets arrested for this anywhere in the country, even in places where this is clearly illegal.

States with regulated online gambling, such as Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, enjoy a full range of deposit and withdrawal options. Since the UIGEA as passed, American players including Texans that are limited to playing at offshore sites have a very limited number of options, although offshore sites work hard to accommodate them, including now offering digital currency transactions such as Bitcoin to allow these payments to be made off the grid.

Future of Gambling in Texas

If we imagine a time where Texas may one day become completely open to gambling as Nevada has become for instance, we’re moving to the world of science fiction, where you perhaps may be able to play at a Texas online casino while flying around in your car.

There are states where fully open gambling may be even further away, Texas is clearly among those at the back of the pack, and much of this resides in the less than permissive attitudes of the electorate in Texas.

It won’t be until Texans come to better realize that gambling is just another form of entertainment like going to the movies or a resort, where they re-examine their biases toward it and also realize that anything is subject to abuse. We sell alcohol even though some abuse it and become alcoholics, and see the costs and benefits of it in the aggregate and not just in isolation by looking at outliers, and also recognize principles of personal liberty where the state needs a much better reason than just some people being opposed to something to justify restricting it.

Meanwhile, while the official options to gamble in Texas, what the state of Texas permits, remain very limited, the science fiction that is needed to catapult Texas into a free gambling state is already here in a sense, the science fiction involved in travelling to other countries via the internet to gamble in places where it actually is permitted and encouraged. This is the new frontier and it is already here in full measure.

Texas Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • What sort of real money online casinos and gambling is available in Texas?

    Texas has a state lottery as well as 3 major pari-mutuel tracks and 1 at a county fair. Charitable bingo and occasional raffles are allowed in most counties, and there is a cruise ship sailing out of Galveston that you can gamble in international waters on. Texas also has 3 Indian casinos although they are not full service casinos and offer limited play. Texans can also take advantage of the many online casino portals that serve this market.

  • Why are Texans mostly opposed to gambling?

    There are a number of beliefs that drive gambling opposition, and all are in play in the State of Texas. Some object on religious grounds, where their religion has taken a paternalistic view of gambling, deciding for us that it is not in our interest rather than allowing us to decide for ourselves. Others may have a personal preference against gambling, or object to companies profiting from it, and may even see it as a tax upon stupidity, where they ignore the entertainment value it provides and just see it as throwing money away.

  • What forms of gambling are against the law in Texas?

    Texas criminal law prohibits all forms of betting on the outcome of games and contests, including the outcome of political elections. It also makes illegal all forms of land-based casino gaming where real money wagers are placed on these games. It does not speak to playing poker or other casino games over the internet, where the gambling in question is not performed on an apparatus designed specifically for this purpose like a slot machine or other gaming device.

  • Why doesn’t Texas have more tribal gaming?

    Texas only has 3 federally recognized Indian tribes, and two of them had their rights to offer real money gambling on their land revoked by the federal statute that recognized the tribes as being under federal jurisdiction. A war has been going on in Texas ever since between these two tribes and the State of Texas, with the tribes seeing their operations shut down and then allowed to re-open later as the matter has been fought out in the courts. The tribes won the last round and are open again but after over 30 years, Texas is still not giving up the fight.

  • Is sports betting legal in Texas?

    There is no reasonable interpretation in Texas law that could possibly be seen as permitting sports betting in any form at the present time. Even though placing sports bets online would be a misdemeanor, enforcing gambling laws when it comes to online play is completely impractical. Even if the state found a way to spy on your internet activity or managed to shut down sites like Kentucky tried to do, players only need to hide their presence through a VPN.

  • Is online gambling illegal in Texas?

    Other than their prohibition against sports betting, which covers all such wagers while physically located in the state, the law here does not address online gambling. When the law is silent on an activity, there is no law that exists to charge anyone with breaking, and this is the situation that we now have in Texas, in spite of any claims to the contrary. It’s still possible that a judge could interpret the law in an unreasonable manner and try to claim that computers or phones are actually gambling devices, but none have.

  • What online casino sites can Texans gamble at?

    There are a number of sites located in other countries that still cater to the U.S. market. They are licensed and regulated and fully legal, much like travelling to a casino in Nevada is. These online gambling establishments do differ in quality and this is not something that players should venture into without doing their homework first, and not just rely on their own resources, but get advice from experts who are far more familiar with this market than they.

  • Are offshore gambling sites licensed and regulated?

    While it is rare for an offshore gambling portal not to be licensed and regulated by some entity, this in itself isn’t enough to know in order to weed out the shadier sites and confine yourself to sites worthy of your play. In order to distinguish between the mediocre and actual good places to gamble online, the bar needs to be set higher than this, taking into account not only their licensure but how long they have been in business, their being continually verified by trusted third parties, the quality of their offerings and their customer service, and their reputation with players and any history of complaints.

  • Is Texas working on regulating online gambling & casinos?

    Many states have regulated online sports betting these days, and in spite of the overall reluctance toward gambling in Texas generally, there are efforts in progress to try to make regulated sports betting in Texas a reality. There is still the matter of seeing the will for this expand enough to actually make it happen some day, and that day is not now. Texas remains opposed to the expansion of other forms of online gambling such as poker and casino games, and this is well down the road at best.

  • What needs to change for Texas to welcome gambling more?

    While governments have a responsibility to protect consumers from undue practices by vendors, and gambling regulation certainly is a benefit to players, the threshold for prohibition needs to be much higher, where we end up with situations where risks to consumers cannot be managed and there are no instances where the benefits may outweigh the risks. This is not the case at all with gambling, as paternal as we may wish to be. A lot of people enjoy real money gambling and consider the cost of it well worth it, and Texas needs to afford more respect for their residents and not impose their religious beliefs or other personal misgivings upon everyone. Texas has a long way to go to find themselves thinking more reasonably about this topic.

Associate Writer: Geoff enjoys both live and online poker as well as casino games, and is particularly knowledgeable about the legal landscape of online gambling.

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