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It may have given its name to one of the most popular poker variants in the world, but gambling in Texas remains on shaky ground while lawmakers and residents wrangle over its merits.
As it stands, Texas State Law is relatively unambiguous in its anti-gambling stance. Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code specifically makes placing bets, as well as taking them, an offence. That makes gambling a much more risky business, with one small exception: keen poker players have a legitimate defence if they "engaged in gambling in a private place”. This has allowed small, private poker games to continue, and left a grey area for those wishing to partake in internet gambling.
Unfortunately, the area is not so grey for bookies and online poker sites. At a federal level, the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act prohibits banks from transferring funds to online gaming sites. At a state level, Texas State’s ban on internet gambling activity was confirmed in 2013, when it became one of several states to opt against legalising online gambling following the US Department of Justice's decision to reverse the blanket ban in 2011.
Its commitment to the anti-gambling lobby was further underlined in September of that year, after lawmakers successfully blocked Churchill Downs’ TwinSpires.com website from accepting bets from Texas residents. This has made it a challenge for Texans to find sites willing to accept their cash, although a number of internationally hosted companies continue to do so.
In the realm of physical casino gaming, The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has led to the establishment of just one venue, with the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass gaining a foothold in the state. There are no other state sanctioned casinos. This is in stark contrast to more forward-thinking states like Pennsylvania, which now features 12 casinos, with plans in place to open up two more.
Like most other US states, Texas does have certain exceptions in the broad arena of gaming. The Texas Lottery runs several games, and licences bingo to be hosted by non-profit organisations and community groups. Parimutuel betting is also permitted and overseen by the Texas Racing Commission. However, times are hard for the state’s six horse racing and greyhound tracks, with two of the dog tracks rarely holding races as gamers increasingly spend their time and money in the more liberal neighbouring economies of Louisiana and New Mexico.
Sportsbook betting remains in demand in the state, with its proud sporting heritage boasting teams as diverse and successful as the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Stars, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.
Poker is also a popular pastime, but anti-gambling raids and the crackdown on internet gambling sites have caused large tournaments to wane in popularity.
The permission of parimutuel and charitable betting has enabled regular race meetings at the Sam Houston Race Park, Lone Star Park and Retama Park, and also allowed the state’s great rodeo tradition to continue to draw sports fans longing for a flutter. The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is one of several events licenced for gaming.
Despite certain sections of the community opposing legalisation of both online and offline gambling in the state of Texas, there remains a ground swell of support and a number of state-level initiatives that hope to eventually introduce progressive legislation.
The stalling of Senate Joint Resolution 64 (SJR 64), which proposed measures to introduce Vegas-style casinos and boost the state’s horse racing industry, has not totally ruled out the future introduction of such laws. State Representative Gary Elkins has publicly stated that he would support ‘the right legislation’ if it made it to the House; and SJR 64’s author, Senator John Carona, commented, “I know the day is coming this will pass... We’re coming closer and closer with each year that passes.” Meanwhile, pro-gambling organisation Let Texans Decide continues to campaign for the legislation, which, the group claims, will return some of the $3 billion spent on gambling in neighbouring states' facilities.
In terms of online gambling, legal changes and public opinion will likely change as casino legislation progresses (or stalls). But while we wait, Churchill Downs have once again pledged to challenge the state ban on websites accepting Texan money.
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