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Texas Online Poker & Gambling Legislation

Is Online Poker Legal in Texas?
Texas Online Poker & Gambling Legislation
Last Updated December 17, 2018

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 with legal poker in Texas 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.

If you came here looking for how to play online poker in Texas or the best Texas poker sites, we suggest you read our real-money poker guide here.

Current Updates for TX – Laws,  Legislation & House Bills

Poker players and supporters have been fighting for legalized poker – whether online or in brick-and-mortar establishments – for years. However, since Senator Rodney Ellis introduced casino bills that included the legalization of poker in 2012 and 2013 and found no support from his fellow lamwakers, nothing else has been put forward.

Over the past few years, some poker entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands. Private clubs have popped up around Texas, mostly in large cities like Houston, with a business model that skirts the law. Instead of players paying rake or tournament fees, people simply pay a membership or entrance fee, similar to a country club. The clubs make money from memberships and seat rental fees, as well as food and beverage sales. And patrons are able to play poker in a safe environment rather than an underground club.

The poker clubs do operate in a bit of a grey area, and some have been shut down by law enforcement officials, but others maintain their ability to operate and plan to assert their rights legally. It may take a court ruling to set a precedent in lieu of the Texas legislature simply legalizing poker.

The most recent news out of Texas is that Attorney General Ken Paxton will not be issuing any type of decision regarding the live poker rooms. State Representative Geanie Morrison formally asked Paxton if poker rooms that charge membership fees but don’t charge rake permitted under the current law. Many lawmakers at all levels of the state government have been asking the same question, but Paxton officially refused to answer. A spokesperson for his office said that it is a legal matter being litigated in the courts, and those courts should resolve the issue.

Texas Gambling & Poker Laws Summarized

State Code Section(s)PEN.10.47; CIV.6
Definition of GamblingA person commits an offense if he 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; makes a bet on the result of any political nomination, appointment, or election or on the degree of success of any nominee, appointee, or candidate; or plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls, or any other gambling device.
Definition of Gambling DeviceAny electronic, electromechanical, or mechanical contrivance 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. The term includes, but is not limited to, gambling device versions of bingo, keno, blackjack, lottery, roulette, video poker, or similar electronic, electromechanical, or mechanical games, or facsimiles thereof, that operate by chance or partially so, that as a result of the play or operation of the game award credits or free games, and that record the number of free games or credits so awarded and the cancellation or removal of the free games or credits.
Definition of BetAn agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance.
Online Poker/GamblingThere have been no proposals in the state legislature that would legalize online poker or internet gaming of any kind.
Live PokerThe live poker offered at cardrooms in major cities in Texas advertise as membership club. No rake is taken from the poker games, though there are fees to enter or belong to the clubs. So far, there have been no court decisions that have closed these poker rooms.
CasinosThere are no casinos in Texas, though there are some cardrooms that have been established as entertainment venues.
Sports BettingTexas has not considered any type of sports betting legislation.
DFSA proposal to legalize daily fantasy sports was proposed in 2017 but never made it through committees or to the floor for a vote.
Other Forms of GamblingHorse and greyhound racing, on-track pari-mutuel betting, lottery, social gambling, bingo and charitable gambling, contests of skill.

Texas Daily Fantasy Sports Laws – Is It Legal?

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 Texas 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 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 play real money poker 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 Poker Sites – Where to Play Online Legally?

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 in TX, 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 real money poker rooms you’ll find, one we keep fresh with regular updates.

Poker Sites Open to Players From Your State
Bovada$500 Bonus3-4 Day PayoutsAccepts Visa, Bitcoin, Wires
Ignition$2000 Bonus3-4 Day PayoutsAccepts Visa, Bitcoin, Wires

Is Online Poker Legal in Texas?

As a rule of thumb, a poker site that accepts American players will also accept poker players from Texas. It’s NOT illegal to play online poker in Texas. In fact, unlike Washington, Texas poker players can legally play on offshore poker sites, like Bovada. The only illegal activity is owning, operating a poker room.

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 site in Texas other than those on our top list.

What Forms of Gambling Are Legal in Texas?

Poker players are naturally curious about whether or not playing poker for real money online is legal 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 poker laws in Texas.

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.

Will Texas Regulate Internet 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 poker laws in Texas be proposed might make the casino melee seem like a mere dustup by comparison.

Texas Gambling Facts

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).

All Poker and Gambling Laws by State

Texas in the News
  • July 11th, 2018

    Poker rooms operating in Texas have no plans to shut down. They believe in their right to operate enough to take it to the courts if they must. The loopholes in the law, in addition to the antiquated laws surrounding poker in Texas, may be challenged in just that way,

    Read Full
  • May 8th, 2018

    Poker players in Texas know how to find games. Whether they travel to neighboring states that allow casinos and card rooms or locate underground games closer to home, there are ways to play poker. Some have found a different avenue. With some legal advice and personal determination, a number of

    Read Full
  • October 20th, 2017

    Texas is one of the few states in America that does not permit poker rooms, clubs, or games with any type of money involved. Despite the global popularity of Texas Hold’em, the state itself has yet to consider any true poker legalization measures. Only one casino operates in Texas, and

    Read Full
  • August 18th, 2017

    One of the greatest mysteries in the world of poker is the notion that Texas Hold’em – and any other kind of poker game – is illegal in the state of Texas. No matter the mainstream popularity of poker or the many reports showing the level of skill overrides luck

    Read Full

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.

Additional Research on Texas Gambling

Texas Tribune: Gaming/Gambling. 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 . 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 . 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 – 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.

About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has been followed the US market closely for the last 7 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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