Legal Texas Online Gambling & Poker Laws

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Texas Online Poker LawsRelevant State Code: PEN 47.01 et seq.; Civ. St. 179e

The state that gave Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson his nickname (or at least half of it) actually has little patience for Doyle and his gambling brethren.  Texas takes a fairly strict approach to gambling considered illegal by the state.  Texas' very broad definition of illegal gambling begins with a definition of what it means to "bet":

Section 47.01(1)
"Bet" means an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance.

That definition is then utilized in the charge of Gambling:

Section 47.02
Gambling
(a) A person commits an offense if he:
(1) 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;
(2) 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
(3) plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls, or any other gambling device.

 Short version: Risking anything valuable on a game, contest or game played with cards, dice, balls (or virtually anything) is illegal in Texas unless the state explicitly permits such activity.

The penalties awaiting those who violate the anti-gambling laws of Texas are right around average for a US state, at least by the letter of the law.  Players face separate charges from those who run or profit from illegal gambling activity; if you are a mere participant, your criminal exposure tops out at a class C misdemeanor (refer to this breakdown of charges and sentences in Texas for details).  Operators face a variety of more serious misdemeanor charges.

Texas reported 630 gambling - related arrests in 2010 - a high number even in the context of the state's population of ~25.6 million.

What Gambling is Legal in Texas?

There is a state lottery in Texas, pari-mutuel wagering at tracks such as Lone Star Park and a tribal casino operated by the Kickapoo Tribe.  There are no commercial casinos in Texas.

Texas law does allow social gambling (Section 47.02(b)).  If gambling takes place in a private place, no one profits aside from their winnings and the odds are the same for all players, then you can't be charged with Gambling.  A similar affirmative defense is provided for those hosting the game or possessing the equipment.

As for charitable gambling in Texas, the state permits bingo and raffles to be conducted by qualified organizations.  See this FAQ from the Texas Attorney General for more information on charitable gambling in Texas..

How Can I Legally Play Poker Under Texas Law?

Lucky Eagle Casino (operated by the Kickapoo) claims to operate Texas' "only legal LIVE poker room" and we could find nothing to disprove that claim.

Private games of poker conducted in accordance with the conditions for social gambling outlined in the last section are legal in Texas.  The stakes involved do not seem to have any bearing on the legality of the game.

Charitable poker is not permitted under Texas law.  Poker of any sort does not qualify for the charitable exception to Texas law.

The issue of online poker is a murkier one for players.  Playing poker online would likely qualify as prohibited gambling under a literal reading of Texas law (although it would easily meet two of the three conditions that exempt social gambling from the law), but the risk of criminal exposure for the average online poker player seems minimal.  Each individual is, of course, responsible for gauging such risk on their own before engaging in any activity that could be considered illegal.

Does Texas Outlaw Online Poker Rooms or Online Casinos?

Not directly.  Texas law does make it a crime to communicate gambling information, a charge that was not designed to apply specifically to the Internet but that could certainly be read by a reasonable person as applicable to gambling online:

Section 47.05
 Communicating Gambling Information
(a) A person commits an offense if, with the intent to further gambling, he knowingly communicates information as to bets, betting odds, or changes in betting odds or he knowingly provides, installs, or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of such information.

As written, the law could likely only be applied to operators and not to players.  Both players and operators should, however, be aware that Texas authorities likely consider online gambling as no different from land-based gambling when it comes to the law.  As this opinion from the Texas Attorney General regarding online trivia contests suggests, gambling that takes place in the state either physically or virtually is equally subject to Texas law.

Texas Gambling Laws: Fun Facts
Some carnival contests can award prizes (limit $25 value) for activities that might otherwise be in violation of Texas law (Section 47.01(C)).

There used to be three tribal casinos in Texas; two were shuttered after legal battles between tribes and the state.

Texas & Online Poker Laws: Latest Developments

Rep. Joe Barton - the sponsor of a bill currently in the US House that would regulate online poker - represents the State of Texas.

There has been virtually zero talk of regulating online poker sites or online gambling at the state level in Texas.

Will Texas Seek to Regulate Online Poker?

Probably not.  Several groups - including the state GOP and the Dallas chapter of the NAACP - are actively working to roll back gambling in the state, with the Texas Lottery serving as their primary target.  Recent primary elections in Texas dealt a significant blow to supporters of gambling expansion

That's not the sort of environment one would describe as conducive to passing online poker regulation.  With little to no public support, a lack of any advocate in government and the absence of a casino industry to press the issue, it's safe to conclude that the chance of Texas passing online poker regulation is close to nil, and certainly near the bottom among US states as a group.

Written by Christine Davies

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