Legal Online Poker & Gambling Laws in Texas

Texas Laws for Poker and Gambling Online
Texas Gambling & Poker Laws

Poker wouldn't be poker without Texas. After all, without Texas, we'd all just be playing plain old hold'em. Without Texas, we wouldn't have some of the game's most enduring legends - and we'd also be without some today's top performers. That mix of the mythical and the modern has made Texas an indelible part of poker, a favor Texas has returned in both live poker rooms and at online poker sites. We're going to sketch a complete picture of poker in the Lone Star State, with an eye toward explaining the ins and outs of Internet poker rooms, in this Guide to Playing Online Poker in Texas.

Update as of 2016

This section is an updated version of the original article. While the the information on this page is correct, some new legislation might be in effect since thie page was originally written. We've left the orginal article in tact below the new information.

Legal Online Gambling in Texas

Texas has not had many major changes in its gambling laws in the past few years. Most forms of land-based gambling are illegal. No casinos are allowed, though horse racing remains a key part of the culture of Texas. The Texas Lottery remains a viable part of the gaming economy.

Texas Daily Fantasy Sports

In January 2016, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that daily fantasy sports gaming was illegal in Texas. FanDuel announced it would no longer offer games to Texans after May 1, 2016. DraftKings filed suit in a Texas court, asking the court to rule DFS legal. That court case has not been resolved yet.

One factor could change everything. Texas AG Ken Paxton has spent most of his time as attorney general under indictment himself. Paxton is accused of 3 felony counts of securities fraud. His lawyers filed 10 motions with Judge George Gallagher, but Judge Gallagher (also a Republican) threw out all 10 motions. Ken Paxton is going to face a trial.

The Dallas Morning News quoted experts saying Paxton has two choices. He can draw out the proceedings for months or years, leaving an ethics issue on the table during the 2016 election. Or Paxton's lawyers can expedite the trial, trying to get the issue resolved before the November election. The problem with the second strategy is Paxton could lose his trial and be convicted of felonies.

Republicans want the issue resolved soon, but they also want Paxton to come out the winner. In most other states, Ken Paxton would have resigned by now. Texas has no Democrats in a state-elected office (and hasn't for over a decade), so at the state level, it is essentially a one-party state. One legal expert even suggested Ken Paxton might not resign, if he is convicted of felonies. (He wouldn't have to, under Texas state law.)

That being said, even Texas Republicans are likely to force out Ken Paxton, if he pushes for a quick trial and loses. His political career would be finished, either way. If Paxton leaves office, it is possible his replacement would change course on the daily fantasy sports issue. Successors often change policies, simply to show they are the new sheriff in town.

8-Liners in Texas Towns

One other oddity exists on the Texas landscape. Under state law, the gaming machines called 8-Liners are legal, as long as a local municipality legalizes them and the owner does not pay winnings in cash. Winners often are paid in store credit, gas, or groceries. 8-Liner gaming is popular throughout East Texas and South Texas, where locals call them "maquinitas".

The 8-Liner industry is not a small industry. A 2004 report from University of Texas researchers estimated that 8-liners generate $5.4 billion each year, which equals Atlantic City in its peak year. One has to imagine the gaming machines generate even more in 2016.

8-Liners create a problem for local law enforcement, though. The business owners are tempted to pay cash for winnings, which is illegal. When cash is paid, gamblers are more interested. Word of mouth causes a spike in business, though word of mouth eventually reaches the authorities. Just in the past 3 years alone, Texas law enforcement has raided 8-liner operations for illegal cash payments in the following cities: San Antonio, Poth, Athens, Cap City, Eustace, Seven Points, Tool, Gun Barrel City, San Benito, Rio Grande City, La Joya, Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley, and McAllen.

Most Texans who want to gamble drive into Oklahoma or Louisiana to gamble. Several of the largest casinos (by gaming space) in the world are located an hour north of Dallas: Winstar Casino in Thackerville and Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. The casinos in Bossier City and Shreveport, Louisiana also get most of their business from Dallas-Fort Worth.

Texas Online Poker Sites

Top Texas Online Poker Rooms

We know the cliché - people from Texas like things big. We kept that in mind when building a list of the best online poker sites for Texans, and the result is a list that is, well, big on big. Big on big bonuses and VIP programs. Big on big deposit options. Big on big games for both tournament and cash game players. In fact, we think we've gone and built the biggest and best list of Texas real money poker rooms you'll find, one we keep fresh with regular updates.

Are Texas Players Welcome at Online Poker Sites?

As a rule of thumb, a poker site that accepts American players will also accept new customers from Texas. It goes without saying that the rooms we've listed above are all Texas-friendly, but they're far from the only online poker rooms where Texans can play real-money games. Contact us if you're looking for an online poker room open to Texas other than those on our top list.

Online Poker Sites and Texas Law

Poker players are naturally curious about whether or not playing poker for real money online is permissible under Texas law. Offering legal advice is not a function of this website (nor of anyone beyond legal professionals), but we can help you sort through the fundamentals of Texas gambling law.

  • What counts as gambling in Texas? The definition of "bet" (Section 47.01(1)) is short and sweet - it's when you enter into an understanding "to win or lose something of value" in an activity that involves chance.  Specifically, the winning or losing must occur "solely or partially by chance."
  • As the definition includes the phrase  "partially by chance," we're left to believe that a bet on anything involving any element of chance could potentially fall under its scope.
  • There's a bit of clarification to be found in the definition of "gambling device" (Section 47.01(4), anything that: "for a consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain anything of value, the award of which is determined solely or partially by chance, even though accompanied by some skill, whether or not the prize is automatically paid by the contrivance."
  • It is a misdemeanor to make illegal bets in Texas (Section 47.02). You're off the hook if you're engaged in purely social gambling in a private place or regulated gambling activity.
  • What about the penalties for running or attempting to profit from illegal gambling? There are about a half a dozen separate charges that you could face. Gambling promotion (Section 47.03) is a misdemeanor, and covers operating, promoting, processing bets and selling lottery chances. Possession of Gambling Device, Equipment, or Paraphernalia (Section 47.06) is also a misdemeanor and involves more or less what the name suggests.

Continue your reading with the online version of the Texas state code [1].

Texas to Regulate Online-Based Poker?

While it would no doubt be great if what is effectively poker's namesake state embraced the online version of the sport, it doesn't seem like a probable scenario. The extended battle over whether or not to bring casinos to Texas shows just how contentious an issue gambling expansion can be, and the fight that would result should online gambling be proposed might make the casino melee seem like a mere dustup by comparison.

Texas Gambling Facts

Texas' Forms of Regulated Gambling

Texas is about average among US states when it comes to the amount of regulated gambling. The list begins with that staple of state-overseen gambling - lottery - and continues with pari-mutuel bets on racing. Rounding out the list are tribal gambling, charitable gambling (raffles and games of bingo) and social gambling (allowed if individuals make no profit from running the activity - basically if no "house" is involved).

Texas' Forms of Regulated Internet Gambling

This is a much shorter list, as the state of Texas does not regulate any form of online gambling activity. As noted in our earlier section discussing the likelihood that Texas will regulate online poker, there's almost certainly quite a bit of daylight between now and a time when Texas is issuing licenses to online gambling operators.

Recent Texas Gambling Headlines

The Texas gambling media is currently focused on the "will they or won't they" saga of gambling expansion in the state. State Senator Rodney Ellis is leading a legislative charge [2] to bring casino-style gambling to the Lone Star State, a position that appears to be resonating with more and more Texans [3] as time goes by.

This storyline should continue to occupy the attention of Texas media through 2013. With so many stakeholders involved and so much controversy surrounding the issue, we're unlikely to see a quick resolution to the question of casinos in Texas.

Additional Research on Texas Gambling

Texas Tribune: Gaming/Gambling [4]. Dedicated section from the Texas Tribune covering all in-state gaming and gambling issues. Includes news and interviews with major industry players.

Senator Rodney Ellis [5]. Internet home of Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), the driving force behind a proposal that would allow voters to decide whether or not to bring casinos to Texas.

Texas Lottery [6]. Official website for the state lottery of Texas contains winning numbers along with a wealth of historical and statistical data about the lottery.

Texas' and the History of Poker

It's hard for a state to be any more integral to the game of poker than Texas. After all, the state name is right smack at the start of what is by far the most popular format of modern poker: Texas Hold'em. The "Godfather" of poker, Doyle Brunson, is still better known to some poker fans as Texas Dolly. The subject of one of the most epic poker matches (and stories) in history - Andy Beal [7] - is (you guessed it) a card-carrying Texan. We could go on.

Poker is now by and large an underground activity in Texas, so the state doesn't get the same spotlight as your Las Vegas or your Atlantic City. But we can guarantee that if the same laws existed in Texas as Nevada, you might quickly see the center of the American poker universe gravitate a bit closer to the Lone Star State.

Sources & Citations For This Article on Texas Online Poker