Close your eyes and imagine the quintessential pioneer saloon. A jangly piano plays in the background, the bartender is slanging sarsaparillas and the tables are filled up with rope-swinging cowboys playing Texas Hold’em. Now ask yourself, what state is this saloon in? If you answered Texas, you would probably be wrong.
Texas saloons and cardrooms may be a part of the western pioneer ethos, but gambling in Texas has been heavily restricted since the territory became a state in 1876. The state’s modern legislative history with gambling is similarly restrictive and only two small land-based casinos operate to serve Texas’ massive population of almost 30 million people.
Gambling, in the form of cards or slots, is illegal in the state except for tribal lands and home games under certain circumstances. And even on tribal lands, the legality of the state’s two casinos is contested to this day.
To help you navigate Texas’ limited online betting and brick-and-mortar gambling options, this page details what is currently legal followed by some of the current policy discussions and potential legislation surrounding the various types of betting.
While the current state of Texas gambling law leaves little room for the gambling industry, there is some hope for gamblers in the Lone Star State.
Legal Texas Betting Sites
The one form of online betting that is tolerated in Texas is daily fantasy sports. We emphasize “tolerated” because even here the legal situation is uncertain. We’ll go into the legal ins and outs a bit later, but the primary places to play online in Texas today that are actually safe and headquartered in the US are:
Actual sports betting is still in all likelihood a long way off at this point, but DraftKings and FanDuel offer the next best thing to full-fledged sports betting in TX. The ability to draft your own teams, watch the game and get paid the same day is not all that far off from the real sports betting experience.
Mobile sports betting, horse racing betting, casino sites and online poker are all prohibited in Texas right now and will most likely remain so for quite some time.
Texas Daily Fantasy Sports
The legality of daily fantasy sports (DFS) in Texas is less than clear. On a national level, DFS is legal due to a carveout in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) which was passed in 2006. The federal law prohibits the processing of payments related to online gambling but was purposely crafted not to include DFS.
Even though federal law allows for DFS, states still retain the right to prohibit fantasy sports at the state level if they choose. Not all states have jumped on the DFS bandwagon, and Texas is one of just a few states that has chosen not to pass legislation regulating fantasy sports.
While Texas has historically frowned on most types of gambling, it has yet to put any prohibitions on DFS into the legal code. This means DFS is neither legal nor illegal. It simply exists outside existing legislation.
However, a non-binding opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton delivered a big setback for Texans wishing to play DFS back in 2016.
Late in 2o15, state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, sought an opinion from the Texas AG on whether fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings.com and FanDuel.com were legal in Texas.
AG Paxton responded with a non-binding opinion that read:
Under section 47.02 of the Penal Code, a person commits an offense if he or she 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. Because the outcome of games in daily fantasy sports leagues depends partially on chance, an individual’s payment of a fee to participate in such activities is a bet. Accordingly, a court would likely determine that participation in daily fantasy sports leagues is illegal gambling ‘under section 47.02 of the Penal Code.
Upon Paxton’s 2016 opinion, FanDuel voluntarily left the Texas betting market entirely while DraftKings decided to stay and fight. Two years later and with no action taken against DraftKings, FanDuel decided to reverse course and came back to Texas.
There have been a number of legislative attempts to firm up the legal footing of fantasy sports sites in Texas since AG Paxton’s 2016 opinion. So far, none have passed into law.
The legal uncertainty regarding Texas fantasy sports has prompted some lawmakers to file legislation clarifying where the state stands on the issue. HB 2303, for example, made it through a House vote in 2019 and would settle the matter by formally defining fantasy sports as contests of skill.
“Regardless of how any of us feel about fantasy sports, no one should be subject to arrest and prosecution because they played a game,” said HB 2303 sponsor Representative Joe Moody.
Representative Moody added, “this narrowly written bill will protect good people from being senselessly branded as criminals by clarifying that fantasy sports are always legal in Texas.”
It should be noted that no state, including Texas, has taken action against DFS players. These legislative debates, legal battles and policy discussions all have more consequences for DFS operators rather than their customer bases.
Texas Sports Betting
Sports betting is currently outlawed in the Lone Star State. If the heated legislative debate around fantasy sports is any indication of the state’s willingness to take on sports betting, then it could be a while for legalized sports betting operations to come on-line in Texas.
Texas and every other state gained the ability to legalize sports betting within their borders in 2018 after the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), but state legislators seem completely unenthused at the prospect.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the legalizing sports betting (and most forms of gambling for that matter) in Texas are widespread moral qualms.
Take the General Baptist Convention of Texas, for example. The group represents nearly 3 million Texans and actively lobbies in Austin. Not only do they oppose legalized sports gambling, they would repeal the state lottery if given the opportunity.
Politically speaking, there seems to be more opposition to sports betting than allies of it. The Texas GOP, which has historically dominated the political scene in the state for decades, has made it perfectly clear that its members “oppose the expansion of legalized gambling.”
As a big fan of states’ rights, Attorney General Ken Paxton gave sports bettors a glimpse of hope when the Supreme court overturned PASPA when he said this:
“By ending (the federal ban), states can rightfully decide whether they want regulated sports betting or not.”
These hopes have since been squashed as Paxton has taken numerous steps to establish Texas as a state that does not want regulated sports betting.
There are allies of gambling in the Lone Star State and the consistency of recent legislative efforts towards this goal are evidence of such. According to the American Sports Betting Coalition, Texas stands to gain a $1.7 billion industry should it legalize and regulate sports betting.
Rep. Eddie Lucio III is one of the more consistent advocates for progressive gambling laws in Texas. His most recent attempt, H 1275, would have authorized brick-and-mortar, online, and mobile sports betting operations.
By late February 2019, H 1275 was bound for Texas’ gambling legislation graveyard better known as the House Committee on Licensing & Administrative Procedures. Even so, any attempt at all to legalize sports betting in Texas should be considered progress in this historically anti-gambling state.
Online Casinos and Poker in Texas
The limited forms of legal online betting in Texas do not include online poker and casino games. The states prohibition of gambling can be found in Title 10 Chapter 47 of the Texas penal code. According to the law, it is a Class C misdemeanor to partake in any form of betting which is defined as, “an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance.”
Exceptions to the above gambling definition above include home games that occur in a private location and that do not profit from the game. Playing online offshore gambling sites, on the other hand, would be a violation of the Title 10 Chapter 47. This could in theory result in a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 dollars, but the state has yet to charge anyone for merely playing online.
Texas takes a more severe stance on the “promotion of gambling” and has made it a Class A misdemeanor to do so. Promotion being, operating a gambling location that profits from the game, bookmaking, or selling unlicensed lottery tickets. Doing any of these activities could result in up to one year of jail time and a fine of up to $4,000.
The chances of online poker and casino games being legalized in Texas over the near term are slim to none. With the opposition to more widespread forms of online gambling in Texas being so fierce, it is unlikely we will see changes on this front anytime soon.
Many politicians in the state have expressed both political and personal distain for even the idea of a full-fledged online casino in Texas. If you want to visit an online casino in a state that allows them, you will have to physically visit that state as geolocation technology will prohibit gamblers from outside those states. If you find yourself at an online gambling site in Texas, the site is operating outside of regulatory oversight and you could find yourself without recourse if the site goes belly up.
Texas Horse Racing Betting
Horse and greyhound racing betting is permitted at seven different tracks throughout the state. Off-track betting (OTB) is illegal in the state and as such there are no facilities outside the states racetracks to place bets on the races.
Texas racetracks have seen significant downturns in attendance since the turn of the century amid increasing competition for entertainment dollars. Additionally, lawmakers have so far refused to allow racetracks to take wagers online or transition to “racinos” by adding slots and table games.
Online Racing Betting
Online horse racing betting is prohibited in Texas due in part to a 2011 amendment to the Texas Racing Act. The amendment targeted Texans looking to bet on national horse racing events such as the Kentucky Derby, as well as local races and prohibited sites such as BetAmerica and TwinSpires from taking bets in Texas.
Texas racetracks have experienced a significant decline since the year 2000. The state’s remaining tracks struggle to keep up attendance or provide significant purses for racing teams. State lawmakers compounded the problem in 2011 by amending the Texas Racing Act to prohibit advance deposit wagering (taking bets online).
Determined to challenge the effects of the Racing Act amendment, TwinSpires.com continued taking wagers from Texans up until 2013. They claimed the amendment amounted to an overstepping of state legislative power as a result of the U.S. Government’s Commerce Clause powers. The suit was ultimately dismissed.
The last bill that attempted to legalize online horse racing came in 2017 via HB 3926. The bill would have drastically changed the online race betting environment allowing Texans to place bets on national and state races. Unfortunately, the bill failed to make it out of the House Committee on Licensing & Administrative Procedures.