Online casinos in Texas are not regulated, and it is currently illegal to operate a real money site in the state. Casino sites offering gambling games like slots, poker, and blackjack are prohibited, but the law does not explicitly forbid Texas players signing up to licensed off-shore sites. Gambling in Texas is very restricted. Very few events are permitted to accept bets and payout real cash. Two of the primary forms of gaming that are accepted are on horse and greyhound dog races. These events take place across eight race tracks across the state.
Texas has the strictest gambling laws in the country, but could the state benefit from changing its outlook? Texas Hold ‘Em is perhaps the most popular card game in the world, but if you were to play it in the state that it took its name from, you could find yourself facing a $500 misdemeanor fine.
Texas has some of the strictest gambling laws in the whole of the United States, if not the entire western world. Penal Code 47.01 prohibits almost every form of gambling in the state, apart from a few bizarre exceptions like dog and horse racing.
Gambling In Texas Law
Roulette, slot casino wagering and sports betting are all strictly off-limits in Texas (well, almost strictly off-limits, but we’ll get to that later). In this article, we take an in-depth look at what is and isn’t legal in the state, as well as hypothesizing whether Texas would benefit from adopting the same approach to gambling as the United Kingdom.
What is illegal in Texas?
Under the Penal Code, any form of gambling, defined as a bet placed on the premise of winning or losing something based purely on chance, is illegal. The following activities are classed definitively as gambling and are therefore illegal in Texas:
1. Casino gambling
All forms of casino gambling are illegal in Texas.
Every game on offer in a casino, from slot machines to poker, blackjack, and roulette, is categorized as gambling and is considered illegal. The law is not just limited to landbased casinos but it also applies to online companies looking to provide casino games to customers, too. Texan people currently cannot enjoy the amazing variety of games people can access in the UK at registered, popular sites like 888 Casino, where you’ll find exhilarating graphics and exciting games, including online roulette, blackjack, and poker.
However, there is one notable exception to this law which prohibits ‘keeping a gambling place’. In Native American lands, this law is not applicable meaning there are one or two places within the state where you can enjoy casino gambling facilities.
2. Sports betting
A night spent wagering on greyhound racing is legal in Texas, whilst more mainstream sports betting is not.
Wagering on the outcome of any mainstream sport in Texas is illegal and subject to the $500 misdemeanor fine. That applies to betting shops which are strictly prohibited and also the use of sports betting websites that may be registered in a different state or country.
Horse racing and dog racing are however exempt from these laws, but only at licensed premises where you are permitted to bet just off the track. Simulcast races and ontrack pari-mutuel wagering are legal for horse racing.
Whilst there is a limit of three racetrack licenses for greyhound wagering with simulcast races and on-track pari-mutuel wagering also being legal.
3. Social Gambling
You may well think that social gambling would cover any form of gambling played between friends, such as a poker night or a special casino-style evening. However, in Texas social gambling refers solely to bingo and raffles sponsored by charitable organizations or licensed lotteries.
These activities are legal and enjoyed by many Texas residents. Social gambling in the non-legal sense is not. Even if you’re just playing a friendly game of cards at home with your friends you are all technically breaking the law.
Are there plans to loosen gambling laws in Texas?
Some states in the USA have legalized gambling, with it becoming increasingly popular.
The entire country is currently facing a crossroads when it comes to gambling, particularly the online derivative. In many states across the USA, there is a clear disparity between land-based gambling and online gambling with the latter almost always being illegal or at least partially prohibited.
At the time of writing a small handful of states have taken the bold step to legalize most forms of online gambling and are currently reaping the economic benefits. This has led to a lot more states putting forward tentative legislation to do the same, and it is expected that most states will have moved towards legalization by at least 2021.
Texas, however, is one of the most traditionally conservative states in the USA and will most likely be one of the last, if not the last states to loosen their gambling laws. There is a bill currently on the docket that pro-gambling advocates are pushing for, but that concerns mainly sports betting.
It is therefore likely that sports betting will be the first gambling act to be legalized throughout Texas. Gambling fans will, however, have to wait at least a few more years to see any further movement on casino, cards, and online gambling laws.
Is it worth loosening the gambling laws?
The arguments for and against gambling laws often become heated and extreme. One of the best and calmest way to analyze the effects of looser gambling laws is by being objective and looking to the example of the United Kingdom, a country that has previously struggled with gambling legislation but is now providing a successful blueprint.
British Gambling: An overview
Online gambling in the UK is booming, with the economy seeing significant boosts from since it was introduced.
In the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) almost every form of gambling is legal, ranging from casino betting and lotteries to online sports wagering. That policy of legalization has been hugely beneficial for the country.
The British economy has grown and benefitted from the widespread legalization of gambling. The industry in its entirety represents annual revenues of £15 billion ($19.76 billion) and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs.
One of the biggest arguments against gambling legalization is always the social problems that may be incurred by gambling. However, in the UK experts claim that extra exposure to gambling has resulted in a more mature attitude to gambling, with a population who’s less likely to encounter problems with gambling.
Can You Gamble Online In Texas
The National Lottery in the UK has been running for the better part of three decades is one of the biggest contributors to charity in the country. It has helped to fund various schemes and enterprises as well as provide funding to the Olympic teams. In addition to this, every gambling operator in the country is required to donate a percentage of their turnover to gambling charities which provide help to those struggling with gambling problems.
On the balance of all available evidence, it is safe to say that the legalization of gambling in the UK has had a positive impact on a range of measurable areas. With public opinion beginning to lean towards a similar approach in the USA and Texas, perhaps lawmakers should look to follow their lead?
By Reid Jowers
Texas Card House General Manager James Combs is seen on March 2, 2019. Texas Card House is a private club and requires a daily, monthly or yearly membership. Brittany Mendez/Reporting Texas
On a Monday afternoon in March, Will, a 24-year-old software engineer in Austin, was relaxing during a break from a poker game at the Texas Card House in North Austin, where brightly lit rooms and affable service are a contrast to the image some people might have of a gambling establishment.
Will (his last name has been omitted to protect his privacy) started playing poker five years ago when friends introduced him to the game. He loved it.
“I like that it’s a beatable game. You focus and practice to get good. It’s a matter of skill rather than luck like blackjack or other games,” Will said.
The Texas Constitution prohibits most forms of gambling. The few exceptions include private gambling at home, betting on sanctioned horse and dog races, the state lottery and gambling at one of the three Indian casinos in the state. During the last several years, some gamblers have started using a loophole in state law to play cards for money at so-called card clubs, such as Texas Card House.
In 2015, Austin-born Texas hold’em poker player Sam von Kennel noticed a legal technicality that would allow him to open a gambling establishment. According to state law, gambling houses can operate as long as they don’t take a percentage of the pot. Von Kennel had an idea. Instead of taking a cut of the pot, he would charge membership dues and hourly or half-hourly fees for players to participate in a game. Based on his idea, von Kennel opened Post Oak in Houston, the first private social card club in Texas. Since then, about 30 other membership-only card clubs have sprung up around the state, he says.
What Age Can You Gamble In Texas
On a typical weekend, Texas Card House hosts as many as 100 members at a time — a mostly male crowd that is diverse in ethnicity and age. Some poker games, the ones popular among regulars, have a buy-in of $300 and a potential payout of a few thousand dollars. Lower-stakes games have buy-ins as small as $40.
States that allow gambling still make a killing off casinos compared to the card houses in Texas. For example, Louisiana and Oklahoma annually average $2.4 billion and $4.4 billion, respectively, according to state revenue reports.
A tournament takes place at Texas Card House in Austin on March 2, 2019. Brittany Mendez/Reporting Texas
Although Texas poker rooms operate in a legal gray area, there is precedent for them elsewhere. Play free slot machines without downloading car racing. California card houses that operate the same way are legally recognized by the state. Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Montana and Washington also have card houses, but no other states do, according to the American Gaming Association’s 2018 State of the States report.
Not everyone agrees that membership-based gambling house are legal.
One of the naysayers is Rob Kohler, a consultant and lobbyist for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
Where Can You Gamble In Texas
“It would require a constitutional amendment to make commercial gambling legal in Texas,” Kohler said. “Private home gambling is legal, but these poker rooms are not that. They are merely hiding as a private establishment, but in reality they are commercial.”
Rodger Weems, chairman of Texans Against Gambling, argued in a 2018 Baptist Standard article that card houses run afoul of the law. According to Texans Against Gambling’s website, its mission is to “Improve the lives of people by freeing them from the lower standard of living, exploitation, and fraud that commercial gambling spreads.”
Justin Northcutt, co-owner of the Texas Card House, says Kohler and Weems are playing a bad hand.
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“We work very closely with state and local officials and law enforcement to make sure they know how we do business,” Northcutt said. The business pays sales taxes, payroll taxes and its share of property taxes, he said. Northcutt declined to say how much it pays.
“It’s not a dark, hidden, dangerous underground place,” he said.
The appeal of membership-based card houses isn’t gambling, but the skill and challenge of poker, he added.
Poker dealer Delia Atwood collects poker chips at her table during a tournament for the Social Card Clubs of Texas, a non-profit formed in 2018 for social clubs and card playing enthusiasts, at the Texas Card House in Austin on March 2, 2019. Brittany Mendez/Reporting Texas
Mike Robinson, a Wesleyan University psychology professor, has been studying gambling addiction for a decade and a half through experiments on rodents.
“We haven’t gotten the rodents to play poker, but the idea is the same,” Robinson said. Success in gambling — winning or almost winning a hand in a poker game, for example — activates the brain’s reward system, and addicts keep gambling in an attempt to reactivate those pathways.
Texas Card House revokes or bans members that show gambling addiction or bad behavior, Northcutt said, and the business is a part of the Social Card Clubs of Texas, a non-profit formed in 2018 that seeks to promote responsible card playing and create better communities.
Kohler, of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, doubts the validity of these claims. He and the Christian Life Commission want to explicitly outlaw card houses, but since the Attorney General’s Office has refused to offer an opinion on the matter, the fate of these establishments is in the hands of local law enforcement.
Law enforcement across the state has been mostly tolerant, but in 2017, CJ’s Card Room in Dallas was raided by police and effectively shut down. Anti-gambling proponents such as Texas Against Gambling have called for law enforcement to continue raids.
Will said the risk of a police raid doesn’t bother him. “I don’t think most people will either,” he said. “It won’t matter because people will still find a way to play.”