Ask 2: Is gambling legal in the Lone Star State?

slot machines
slot machines (KPRC 2)

At KPRC 2, we’re dedicated to keeping Houstonians informed. As part of our new Ask 2 series, the newsroom will answer your questions about all things Houston.

The question: Is gambling legal in the Lone Star State?

It’s complicated.

Many Texans looking to gamble just drive to neighboring states like Oklahoma or Louisiana where full-fledged gambling is legal. Before you hop over state lines for a game of Texas hold 'em, learn what’s legal in the Lone Star State.

Lotto tickets

Texans can purchase lotto tickets through the state-run lottery. In Texas, the state lottery began in 1992 and is run by the Texas Lottery Commission, which “walks a tightrope in balancing the many contradictions in the State’s attitudes about gaming,” the Sunset Advisory Commission wrote in its 2013 report on the organization. Since it was established, the Texas lottery has generated more than $30 billion in revenue for the state.

Dog and horse races

In the 1980′s, the Texas legislature created the Texas Racing Commission to regulate greyhound racing and horse racing. There are three greyhounds tracks and four horse tracks in the state.

Social gambling

Texans can participate in gambling that takes place in a private place, defined as “a place to which the public does not have access.” Private places exclude streets, highways, restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, schools, hospitals, and the common areas of apartment houses, hotels, motels, office buildings, transportation facilities, and shops, according to Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code.

Under the law, the organizer cannot take a cut of the winnings and, except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning must remain the same for all participants.

Charitable Raffles

The Charitable Raffle Enabling Act permits “qualified organizations” to hold charitable raffles, with certain specified restrictions. CREA defines a raffle as “the award of one or more prizes by chance at a single occasion among a single pool or group of persons who have paid or promised a thing of value for a ticket that represents a chance to win a prize.” Under the law, all proceeds from raffles must be used for the charitable purposes of the organization. An unauthorized raffle is considered gambling under the Texas Penal Code.

Charitable Bingo

In 1981, with the passage of the Bingo Enabling Act, state legislators made bingo a state-regulated game. Conducting games illegally is a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in the pen and up to a $10,000 fine. Bingo games played within the confines of a private place for amusement and which do not exceed 15 players are legal, according to the Texas Lottery Commission.

Casino-style establishments

Texans who yearn for gambling in a glamorous locale with higher stakes have limited options, but they do exist. Currently, two federally recognized Native American tribes in Texas operate casinos and casino-like facilities on their reservations. In Eagle Pass, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas operates Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino, the largest casino in the state with over 3,300 slot machines. Near Livingston, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas runs Naskila Gaming, a casino-style venue offering electronic bingo.

Poker Clubs

Poker clubs throughout the state operate in a legal gray area. Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code prohibits anyone from receiving “any economic benefit other than personal winnings.” Translation: Organizers can’t take any portion of the profit from a poker game. To rake in money of their own, poker clubs collect cover charges, membership fees and hourly fees for a seat at the table.

In summary, gambling is against the law unless the following conditions are met:

1. The player is in a private place.

2. No one profits from hosting the game.

3. The risk of losing and chances of winning are the same for all participants.

In May 2019, authorities raided Post Oak Poker Club and Prime Social Poker Club, two popular Houston poker establishments, claiming that the clubs were casinos operating in the guise of private clubs. Officials also said the clubs too a cut of the profits from the poker games and tried to get around the law by making the cuts look like fees charged to club members.

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