I remember in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s, I used to play poker at a lot of the underground poker rooms in Dallas. Many of them had been in business for years. At some point, though, they started getting raided by the cops.
This continued until all the places I knew about had been closed. I vaguely understood that there were underground casinos in Dallas, too, but I didn’t play at any of them. I know that many bars and gas stations had the equivalent of slot machines – in Texas, they’re called 8-liners.
At one time, most of the mid-sized cities had even opened up so-called “game rooms” featuring these 8-liners. Most of them are now closed, too. The only one I ever played in with any regularity was in Farmersville.
It was fun, but you couldn’t win real cash there. You could only cash in points for merchandise, most of which looked like it had been bought on sale at Dollar General. I remember gardening tools and a 6-pack of canned corn.
And it made me wonder why the Texas gambling scene doesn’t have real casinos.
In this post, I’m going to delve into that subject a little more.
Texas Has Strict Gambling Laws
The main reason Texas doesn’t have casinos is because casino gambling – all types of casino gambling – are illegal in the state of Texas. In fact, Texas has some of the strictest gambling laws in the country.
This all stems from Penal Code 47.01, which is the statute making gambling illegal throughout the state.
The only exceptions are bets on dog and horse racing.
Not only that, but the law specifically enumerates which gambling activities are illegal in the state.
Which Types of Gambling Are Illegal in Texas?
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you already know that gambling has any number of subcategories. The state of Texas agrees. After all, they’ve enumerated and listed the specific types of gambling which are illegal throughout the state.
The first kind of gambling that’s illegal in Texas is the casino game. Any kind of game played in a casino is illegal in Texas, and this includes real money blackjack, craps, roulette, slots, and video poker. This also applies to online gambling, although I’ve never heard of anyone getting in trouble for playing online casino games.
The only exception is if you’re on Native American land. I’ll have more to say about this later in the post. Stay tuned.
Sports betting is also illegal, with the exceptions of betting at the dog track or the horse track. Betting on sports is punishable by a $500 misdemeanor fine. It applies to online as well as in-person or over-the-phone betting.
This didn’t seem to slow down any of the bettors at my local bar who placed wagers with their local bookie.
Texas also has laws related to so-called social gambling. This is how Texas categorizes bingo games or charitable raffles.
These activities are legal when operated for the benefit of charities in the state. Otherwise, they’re illegal.
Strictly speaking, it’s even illegal to play in a friendly home poker game.
What About the Lucky Eagle Casino?
If you’ve heard of a Texas casino called the Lucky Eagle Casino, then you’ve found one of the rare exceptions to the statement that there are no casinos in Texas.
The Lucky Eagle Casino is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., and they stay open until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday night.
They have over 1200 slot machine games, but they also offer table games including blackjack, craps, roulette, and even keno. They have over 55,000 square feet of casino space with both smoking and non-smoking sections.
I saw no mention of baccarat on their site, but I suspect baccarat isn’t a big draw in Texas.
Lucky Eagle also hosts bingo games in their event center except on Friday and Saturday night.
The keno lounge offers multiple keno games, including speed keno and 50 cent keno.
Why is the Lucky Eagle Casino allowed to operate in Texas?
They’re a Native American casino, owned by the Chehalis Tribe, which has a compact with the state government allowing them to operate.
What About Naskila Gaming?
Naskila Gaming is another notable exception to the “no casinos in Texas” generality. It’s another example of a Native American casino. They’re owned by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.
They’re located on the Indian reservation near Livingston, Texas, and they’re open 24/7.
They only offer Class II slot machines, and they have about 800 games to choose from.
Naskila Gaming also has multiple restaurants onsite, including a Nathan’s Hot Dogs and a Mexican café. They even have a grill serving traditional American fare.
There’s some controversy related to whether they’ll be able to continue operating in Texas. If you visit their website, you’ll see notices asking their patrons to support HR 759 to keep them open.
HR 759 intends to clarify that Naskila Gaming IS acting legally because they’re on tribal land.
Texas has three Native American tribes that are legally recognize by the federal government. The Kickapoo Tribe is the only one currently allowed to offer Class II gaming.
HR 759 aims to correct that inequity. And, just to be clear, it doesn’t make it legal for Naskila Gaming to offer blackjack, craps, or roulette. They must stick with the electronic bingo gambling machines.
The legislation also authorizes the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe to offer gaming on their reservation.
What About Casino Cruises?
One way casino companies circumvent casino gambling laws is to offer casino gambling on cruise ships. These ships generally go out far enough in the water to get outside the jurisdiction of the state where they’re docked. Several casino cruises are available from Texas ports.
These include Carnival Valor Casino, Carnival Breeze Casino, Carnival Freedom Casino, and Jacks or Better Casino.
The last time I went on a casino cruise, I played Texas holdem the entire time.
It’s common knowledge among those in the know that the slot machine payback percentages on casino cruises are lousy.
Where Else Can You Gamble in Texas?
You’re legally allowed to bet on dog racing and horse racing in Texas. You must do so from the site itself, though. You have the following tracks to choose from:
- Gulf Greyhound Park
- Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie
- Sam Houston Race Park
- Valley Race Park
Of these, the only one I’ve visited was Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie. They have no casino facilities, but there’s enough horse betting action here to keep even the most avid action junkie entertained for hours (or days).
Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie
Admission to Lone Star Park is only $5, and the gates open at 5 p.m. The first race is run at 6:05 p.m.
They offer stakes races where they’ll either add money to the prize pool or they’ll have a minimum guaranteed prize pool.
Like a casino, Lone Star Park has a rewards program. It’s comparable to a slot machine players’ club at a casino.
You earn a point for every dollar you wager, but you also get additional points by placing wagers with the self-serve facilities. You also get two bonus points per dollar by betting on Lone Star Park and Remington Park races.
When you spend money at the concessions stand or in the gift shop, you get a point for every dollar you spend. You can redeem these points later.
They have a variety of rewards available, but you can get an idea of what the points are worth by looking at the vouchers and food and beverage credits.
You can cash in 10,000 points to get a $10 food and beverage credit.
You can also cash in 20,000 points to get a $20 mutuel voucher. The ratio is the same for $50 and $100 vouchers, which would require 50,000 points and 100,000 points each.
I should point out that only a handful of gambling activities — including blackjack, poker, and sports betting — offer the opportunity to get a mathematical edge. Betting on horses – if you’re good at it – also offers that opportunity.
I’m not sure who said there are no casinos in Texas. There are at least two, and more depending on whether you count the racetracks and cruises.
You also have any number of businesses offering the equivalent of slot machine games called 8-liners.
I think the state government should go ahead and legalize and regulate gambling throughout the state. Right now, they’re just leaving all that revenue on the table.