It’s strange that Texas gives its name to the most popular poker game in the world, but you can’t play the game legally in the state.
In fact, Texas might be the least gambling-friendly state in the USA.
I live in Texas, and I’m a gambler, so I might be better suited to write a post about what it’s like to be a gambler in Texas than just about anyone.
Texas Has Some of the Strictest Gambling Laws in the US
Gambling in Texas is covered by Penal Code 47.01. That set of laws makes it illegal to engage in almost any kind of gambling in the state. The notable exceptions are dog and horse racing.
What kinds of gambling are illegal in Texas?
You can’t play any kind of casino game – that includes blackjack, craps, roulette, slot machines, or video poker. That’s not a complete list of casino games, but those are the big ones these days, and they’re all covered by Penal Code 47.01.
Betting on sports is also illegal in Texas.
Bingo has limited availability and legality in Texas, but it’s closely regulated. The lottery is also available in the state.
One of the big specifics in the law is that it’s illegal to “keep a gambling place.” In other words, you can’t legally operate a casino.
The big exception is on Native American land, but Texas – unlike many other states – doesn’t have much of a presence in the Native American casino market.
What Constitutes “Social Gambling” in Texas?
The law does state that social gambling is legal in Texas, but that phrase doesn’t mean what you think it means.
When I think of “social gambling,” I think of a home poker game or a casino night hosted by… well, by almost anyone.
But, in Texas, social gambling is specific to charity-based gambling like bingo and the lottery. It also includes charity raffles.
It does NOT include hosting a home poker night. It also doesn’t include placing a bet on a sporting event in a bar with a buddy, although that sounds like it’s more “social” than the explicitly legal forms of gambling mentioned.
I know of at least one fraternal organization near where I live that hosts actual casino games, or so they told me when they tried to recruit me.
I have friends who were present when their local poker game was raided by the SWAT team, too, although that’s been years.
Legit home games don’t get raided often, but if you have a fraternal organization that’s really just a front for a poker cardroom business, you’re asking for trouble.
More About 8-Liners
I used to hang out at a specific bar in Dallas that had a bank of three real money slot machines in it. They were called 8-liners. I saw old men who were regulars there lose $200 or $300 a night on payday there trying to win on those games.
My guess is that those games made the owner of the bar significant amounts of money. In fact, I suspect they made as much money from the 8-liners as they made from selling liquor – at least on the nights when I wasn’t there. (I always had a big bar tab.)
How is this legal?
Apparently, the law allows the operation of such machines under a couple of conditions:
- You can’t have cash payouts.
- You can’t award prizes worth more than $5.
Of course, most places offering 8-liners are ignoring the legal restrictions. The way it worked at the bar where I used to hang out was that if you won enough money, you were supposed to show up on Friday when the owner of the bar was there to pick up your envelope.
A buddy of mine won $200 there one night and called the bar to ask about picking up his envelope.
The owner didn’t know him, so she told him, “I don’t give envelopes to people I don’t know.”
He called me, and I had to call down to the bar to vouch for him. She was worried about law enforcement, of course.
8-liners don’t seem to be going anywhere, but occasionally law enforcement will crack down on the game rooms in a specific jurisdiction.
Why did the state of Texas legalize such games to begin with?
It probably had to do with Dave and Busters. The law was called the “fuzzy animal” law, and it was passed to make it legal to offer the kinds of games offered at Dave and Busters where you win toys and stuffed animals.
Restaurants that offer these kinds of games with prizes to kids are just conditioning them to enjoy gambling at casinos later in life. Spend some time at Chuck E. Cheese and listen to the sounds there. Then visit a real casino shortly afterward. They sound the same.
Native American Casinos in Texas
One of the most notable Native American casinos in the state is the Lucky Eagle Casino, which is owned by the Kickapoo Tribe. It’s located on the Rio Grande River, and it’s so close to the border that it’s practically in Mexico.
It’s a real casino, though, with over 1200 different slot machines on the floor. These include newer games like Forest Dragons, Jurassic World 3D, and Rakin Bacon. They also have some of the most traditionally popular slot machine games you’ll find in almost every casino, including Buffalo Gold, Dangerous Beauty, and Golden Eagle.
You can also play a variety of table games at the Lucky Eagle. Ultimate Texas Hold’em is one of the more popular games, and it’s available with a minimum bet of just $5 per hand. It features a progressive jackpot, too.
Other popular table games at the casino include Emperor’s Challenge, which is a Pai Gow Poker variation, Mississippi Stud, and blackjack (in many variations).
Craps and roulette are available, too. Bingo and keno are popular at Lucky Eagle, too.
Just like the casinos in Las Vegas and other popular gambling destinations, Lucky Eagle has multiple restaurants to choose from, including a buffet.
Texas Is a Huge State
Texas covers a lot more land than most states. In fact, it’s one of the two or three biggest states in the country. And most people just don’t live close to the Lucky Eagle Casino.
What do Texas gamblers do when they can’t make the trip to Lucky Eagle?
It’s easier than you think.
Depending on which side of the DFW Metroplex you live on, you can probably drive to one of these two casinos in less than an hour.
It’s no surprise that a lot of Texas gamblers head across the Red River to get their gambling done.
People who live further east often drive to Louisiana to gamble. Shreveport isn’t far. If you’re traveling from Dallas, it’s about a 3-hour drive, but if you’re in Texarkana, you can get to Shreveport in two hours or so.
The Eldorado Resort is the biggest casino in Shreveport, and it’s a popular gambling hot spot for Texans.
Being a Gambler in Texas Isn’t That Bad
I live near Dallas, and I have no trouble finding a way to get my gambling done. Frankly, enforcement is so sporadic that it’s easy to gamble right here in the state. I know plenty of people who deal with a local bookmaker for their sports betting. You can find one just by becoming a regular at a bar where people watch sports and asking someone.
Poker games are ubiquitous, too. Most bars offer free poker tournaments with cash prizes. I’ve never seen such poker games raided. That’s one way to scratch the itch, but if you’re making enough money, you might find such low-stakes action boring.
Of course, it’s easy enough to host your own poker game. I’ve written multiple how-to posts in the past explaining how to host your own home poker game.
I avoid bingo and the lottery because I don’t like the odds, but if that scratches your itch, don’t let anyone judge you for it.
Being a gambler in Texas is all right. It’s not the same as being a gambler living near Las Vegas, but that might even be a good thing. I know a couple of people who lost fortunes when they lived in Vegas. They just couldn’t control their impulses.
It just takes a little more effort to gamble if you’re from Texas.
Most gamblers I know don’t mind putting the work in.