Oh, Lone Star State. I have a bone to pick with you. This is a touchy subject, too, as I’m a proud citizen of the great state of Texas.
I love your food; I love your diverse cultures and climates. I love that you can be country and hipster all at the same time.
I want to know why you hate gambling.
This is a heart breaker for this gambling Texan girl.
Why are almost all forms of gambling illegal in my home state?
Why do you want me to take my hard-earned dollars out of state to spend on my favorite hobby?
I don’t want to give that taxable revenue to Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Nevada. I want to go to the Gulf Coast and let my family enjoy our warm waters.
Then I want to gamble.
Why are you keeping this from me?
Did I do something wrong?
Why are you so mad at gambling?
So many questions.
Let’s see if I can answer some of them.
The History of Gambling in The Lone Star State
Texas, much like its neighbors to the east and west, has changed hands many times of the course of its history. It was once even its own sovereign nation. Texans often refer to the Republic of Texas.
Texas was originally part of multiple native tribes, but we know how this goes. It changed hands between the Spanish (Tejas is the Spanish spelling), American, Mexico, and even the French.
Texas has the strictest real money gambling laws in the United States.
I would’ve guessed our Mormon friends in Utah would be a no go on gambling, but no.
This was huge swing from the Wild West attitude of the 1800s. Texas is the home of many outlaws like Billy the Kid and Jesse James. Let’s not forget that Bonnie and Clyde were Texas residents, too.
This is not a neat or prim and proper state. We like to be left alone, not told what to do, and keep to ourselves.
The Prohibition Era ushered in a clamping down of the above vices to almost do a 180 from the torrid, wild past of the state.
So, when did the State of Texas make gambling illegal?
It’s a long drawn out answer. I wish it were easier. I wish it were something simple like 1920.
But no, it was a slow suffocation of the hobby.
The state would see local governments outlaw vices in their regions starting in the Reconstruction Era of the post war South. The nail in the coffin was the passage of the 18th amendment to the United States Constitution. This made alcohol and gambling illegal throughout the country.
Once this amendment was overturned, many states started to reopen racetracks and saloon or bars. Texas dug its heels in the ground on the topic of gambling.
The legality of gambling has wavered throughout the state over the years, but one thing has stayed true.
Texas doesn’t condone most forms of gambling.
Texas has 2 casinos. We are number 2 in size and population in America. We are last in gambling.
And it doesn’t look like the legislature is going to budge anytime soon.
There are some obscure loopholes in our gambling laws, and the lottery is a big government business.
What Type of Gambling Are Legal in Texas?
There are a few types of gambling that are legal in Texas.
Most of these are weird – except for the lottery.
The Texas State Lottery
The State of Texas legalized a state lottery in July of 1991. That was a big win. I remember when my parents got together with their friends to go in a ton of tickets. My siblings and I started seeing scratch off tickets in birthday and holiday cards from our grandparents.
Playing the lottery in Texas is a big deal. An estimated 68% of Texan play some form of the lottery. With almost 40 million residents, that is a lot of money.
I am from Austin, the capitol of the state. Downtown they used to live film the drawings and we would watch through the window on our way to the bar when I was in college at University of Texas at Austin.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t played the lottery. When my husband and I were young and broke we would buy scratch off in hopes to win enough to cover our bills
The Texas lottery is as common as a rodeo or going 2 stepping after a meal of Mexican food or BBQ.
The state makes billions off the proceeds. This money is allocated to schools and wildlife and land protections. Texans are big hunters which makes them conservationists by default.
Horse and Dog Racing
Under the pari-mutuel racing rules, Texans can participate in dog and horse betting. There are 3 class 1 racetracks in the entire state.
This type of gambling was legalized in Texas in 1978. Texas was about 30 years behind the rest of the country.
I didn’t grow up with adults going to the races because of the old hold over of prohibition and the Progressive Movement.
Native Tribe Casinos
Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the 3 recognized native tribes of Texas were granted the right to open gaming establishment.
The Kickapoo Tribe has the Lucky Eagle Casino. It’s found in Eagle Pass, in far West Texas on the Mexican border. It’s a long hot drive from almost anyone in the state except Laredo.
The Tigua Tribe owns and operates the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center.
You’ll find it in El Paso on their native lands. El Paso is the 5th most populated city in the state, but it’s still a 9+ hour drive from the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.
Are you seeing a trend?
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe offers gambling, too – at Naskila Gaming.
That’s located in Livingston, just north of Beaumont, Texas. It’s only a 3-hour drive, but there’s not a lot to see once you get there
The Naskila Gaming and Speaking Rock Entertainment have been wrapped up in red tape and legal disputes for years and may not be able to survive. This is against trend for other native casinos in other states.
You’ve heard of WinStar?
It is a native owned casino and has its own economy. It’s literally an hour drive from my house over the Oklahoma border.
What Are 8-Liners and How Do They Work?
If you’re not from here, you’ve probably not seen these shady little machines. They’re the video poker looking machines in gas stations and dive bars.
They are gaming machines that offer noncash prizes of less than a $5.00 value. I have played these at a now closed bar (probably because they didn’t ID people).
Nowadays I see them mostly in underserved communities. It’s always a slimy gas station. The state legislature has been trying to outlaw them since the 80’s.
They argue that they qualify as in-person gambling and don’t follow that state guidelines of approved gambling.
That’s not the type of hobby gambling I’m look for in my home state, are you?
This one is tricky. I’m impressed to be honest. These one day “cruises” take people to a cruise to essentially nowhere.
They stop in international waters so that there is no jurisdiction to say, “Quit it!”. It is pretty genius but expensive.
The cost has caused many startups to fail or rebrand with more failure. They leave out of a Texas port with mostly Texas passengers.
The problem is most of the Texas ports are a short drive to Louisiana, our eastern neighbor. Louisiana is very pro gambling.
See the problem?
Why would I get on a day cruise and risk sea sickness when I can take my entire family to the Golden Nugget Lake Charles Casino and Resort for an all-inclusive resort vacation?
It’s not good. Texas has even made friendly wagering illegal in the state. If I host a poker night with real money, I could serve some prison time.
When will Texas catch up and join the 21st, heck even the 20th, century?
I don’t know.
Every year it’s on the state legislature’s docket.
Every session it fails.
Maybe other states have made it too easy for Texans to come visit.
I see it as a missed opportunity for tax revenue for the state. And tourist dollars. Texas is so big that driving from Dallas to the coast is considered being out of state in other parts of this country.
Austin has 100s of 1000s descend on it every March for the SXSW festival.
Why not also make some tax venue off them with gambling?
It just doesn’t make sense.
But this state likes to do things the hard way because that’s how it’s always been. For a long time.
I would love to hear your thoughts and questions. Please leave a comment below.