Online Gambling in Texas: Legal Online Casino Sites

Texas has had a long and complex relationship with gambling. Laws have come and gone and continue to be highly divisive in the state that has an infamous record with resisting the legalization of gambling. In this article, we explore all the legal - and gray - areas of gambling currently available to players in the state, alongside a brief history of how gambling has evolved in the state over the last century or so.

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Best Texas Online Casinos List 2022

Wild Casino - $1000 Signup Bonus

Wild Casino is renowned among gamblers for its vast collection of games and genres. They fall under the parentage of gambling giants such as Betonline and Sportsbetting, and are licensed by the Panama Gaming Commission. Wild Casino’s reputation since its launch has been built on multiple pillars - a smooth and minimal user interface is one of those. But the crowning glory comes from the fact they complete payouts quicker than a large percentage of the casinos in the industry and are rated in the top echelons among brands like Ignition Casino and El Royale.

Once you’ve signed up through Wild Casino’s website or app, you’ll spot six primary genres of gaming options - online slots, table games, online blackjack, live dealer, video poker, and specialty games - all of which contain a vast selection of games under them and are open to use for US residents.

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Ignition Casino - $2000 Signup Bonus

Ignition Casino is a relatively new brand in the online gaming space, but is among the fastest growing ones since it was established in 2016. This rapid growth is particularly impressive because of how few starting issues they had while entering an industry with many dominant players.

Ignition’s key value proposition is how straightforward and easy they make betting for news users. Their interface and arrangement is intuitive, offers all the right kind of information as required, and the registration and profile creation process is just as easy as making a deposit is easy work. On last inspection, they’ve managed to expand their games collection to well over 300-plus, and that hasn’t come at the cost of essential features like an active 24x7 customer support service. It has been a solid start for Ignition so far and they have the base to compete with the established players.

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Bovada is licensed in Costa Rica and is available as an online casino in Texas. Bovada is a fairly popular operator in the industry, and had its roots established as early as 1997, growing since then into a popular destination for its online casino gaming options and poker tables. Ignition acquired Bovada’s online poker room in 2016, but Bovada has launched a new poker room since. The two platforms now have the same software engineering core powering them. That, however, has not come at the cost of a massive makeover.

Bovada’s diverse collection is a dream for gamblers - they have live dealer poker games, sports betting and horse race betting - who only have to make one account to open up a world of possibilities. This is one of key differentiators between Bovada and most casino-only offerings.

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Legal Online Gambling in Texas

Is Online Gambling Legal in Texas?

As of June 2022, online gambling is not legal in Texas. In the simplest of terms, any online gambling avenues or games of chance that involve wagering real money are not recognized legally in the state. The same applies to sports betting, which has taken off at rapid speed around the USA, but is still facing stiff resistance in Texas. However, like most major states, there does exist a gray area in which online gamblers could operate.

The law around online gaming doesn’t explicitly state that signing up on offshore websites is illegal. In principle, that gray area means that any residents of Texas could easily get onto some of the online casinos listed above, make deposits, and place wagers; there is nothing written in the law that prohibits a Texas resident from doing so.

Having said that, section 47.02 of the Texas Penal Code states that:

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.

This same section of the code also states that marketing and advertising that “furthers gambling” will be considered illegal and subject to relevant penalties. So, if you’re looking to place an online wager, keep these in mind. While the laws haven’t quite got up to speed with the global nature of online gaming, there is still a risk if the authorities catch wind of online real-money gaming activities.

On a more practical level, the risks of engaging with offshore platforms exist. While there is scope for treating the legal gray areas as a loophole, the potential downside of engaging with operators who aren’t licensed in the USA are a considerable reality: you will lack legal protection against fraud and other issues, and there is the possibility of running into bad-faith actors in the industry. Should you go down the path of online gambling from Texas, make sure you are gaming on well-reputed industry names to have the odds of a good experience in your favor.

What Is Banned and What Isn’t?

As things stand, only land-based casinos have any kind of leeway when it comes to gambling in Texas. Gambling is legal for horse racing and greyhound racing, and daily fantasy sports are also allowed - the latter, however, is not explicitly laid down in law. Lotteries, bingos, charitable raggles, and office pools (social wagering) are also allowed in Texas. The only explicit bans are on online gambling. You must be at least 21 years old to gamble in Texas.

Poker Clubs in Texas

A lot of private poker clubs have emerged in Texas since 2015, when Texas Hold’em player Sam von Kennel found a loophole in Texas’ gambling laws; the law says that it is illegal for casinos to take a cut of the pot. Von Kennel’s way around this stipulation was to charge players a membership fee up front to enter his private club, instead of the traditional commercial casino standard of taking a cut of the pot.

This is the standard procedure for poker clubs - they technically offer games in private settings, which is legal, charge people by the hour to play in their establishments, and remove the concept of a house. In essence, it is players taking on other players, which brings in an element of skill to the whole situation, rather than the traditional setting where players are betting against the house.

There are poker clubs in Texas who have professional licenses based on these tenets that they will not rake. As of now, the only angles with which these establishments are policed is based on whether or not there is a house element to it. To add an additional layer of safety, there are poker clubs that operate as subsidiaries of steakhouses, for instance, which offer members-only poker games. While there is resistance to this concept by local law enforcement officials who don’t want gambling establishments anywhere near their communities, there is no legal resistance to the idea of these clubs. The State’s Attorney General, in fact, has not made any major interventions in recent history. There have, however, been poker club owners over the years who were charged with money laundering as part of engaging in organized crime activities. Do your due diligence before putting in your money.

Sweepstakes Casinos

Real money gambling in online casinos is neither legal nor regulated in Texas at the moment, though participating in sweepstakes casinos exists in a legal gray area. Sweepstakes are allowed in the USA by Federal Law, and this is based on the fact that there is a social gaming element to it. The underlying condition on which sweepstakes contests are allowed is that no money is required for a player to enter a sweepstakes contest. Based on this, sweepstakes casinos have gained popularity - they simulate real money gambling, winnings from which can then be turned into real money in a roundabout way. 

There is only one major distinction between playing in a regular online casino and a sweepstakes casino. With the former, there is a pretty well set out process worldwide - you register on the platform, make a real money deposit and head into the casino’s various rooms to gamble. With sweepstakes casinos, however, there is a middle step in the form of virtual currency and chips.

In general, when you sign up for a sweepstakes casino, you get a welcome bonus consisting of a little pot of the virtual currency that the casino offers. These are most commonly known as sweepstakes coins, and they are your access to the various games that the casino offers. As you play and win, this pot grows, without you having spent any money but being eligible for prizes. This is the most widely available model of sweepstakes casinos in the market.

There is another model, used by the more seasoned players, in which you pay upfront to buy the sweepstakes casino’s virtual currency, and get yourself an amount of that casino’s virtual currency; once this step is done, the process remains the same - you get access to the various gaming avenues, and build up your pot. Depending on the platform you’re using, this pot of the casino sanctioned virtual currency can be traded in for either real money that you can withdraw - which is taxed by the IRS - or claim other prizes.

According to the US sweepstakes laws, this is a legal way of gambling and making winnings legal in 30 US states thanks to the Federal laws that govern it. For Texans, in particular, it is the simplest and safest way of going around the complex and opaque laws that have a stranglehold on gambling in the state. The downside of using this method is that you don’t always get to withdraw your full winnings, with the platform generally taking a small cut. But, all things considered, that downside is a lot more palatable than the downsides from engaging in any other kind of gambling.

Key Differences between Real Money Casinos and Sweepstakes Casinos in Texas

Online gambling in Texas with real money Sweepstakes gambling in Texas
Illegal and doesn’t come with protections; lots of gray areas in the laws Legal in all states, recognized by the Texas Gambling Commission
Participation completely at the discretion of the platform owners; no strong protections for players who are offshore Can be accessed from any location in the United States, no laws related to residency
Requires real money to be deposited in offshore accounts Can be played either with or without real money; legal solutions available in case of trouble
Generally, requires an element of experience and expertise, with little room to learn without taking losses Virtual currencies form the core of this gaming method and you learn on your time without real-world financial consequences
Operated by for-profit businesses who generally only offer incentives and freebies up front Almost all sweepstakes casinos give you free virtual currency to continue playing if you contact them directly

Other Forms of Legal Gambling in Texas

While online gambling in Texas may not be formally legalized, there are several ways to gamble legally.

Horse Racing

The state of Texas has had many encounters with the law that allowed pari-mutuel betting at the race tracks. Betting at the race tracks was first written into legislation in 1933, then deemed illegal in 1937, and had to endure a decades-long fight before it was allowed again in 1987. Alongside greyhound racing, it is one of the few completely legal forms of gambling in Texas.

The catch is that placing online bets on horse racing is still illegal. However, that isn’t too much of a deterrent in Texas because there are several top-notch tracks around the state that aren’t difficult to get to. Lone Star Park (Grand Prairie), Retama Park (Selma), and Sam Houston Race Park (Houston) are among the most popular horse race tracks in the state. 

Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports enthusiasts in Texas received their first thumbs up from the state in 2019, when the Texas House voted 116-27 in favor of legalizing daily fantasy sports being a game of skill and not a game of chance. Daily fantasy sports operators now face little resistance from the state.

However, that wasn’t the case in 2016 when Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, claimed that operators like DraftKings and FanDuel were operating businesses that were illegally legitimizing bets under the garb of calling fantasy sports a game of skill. The companies contested this in court and won, having briefly been in danger of losing their businesses in the state, setting the tone for the bill that was later passed.

State Lottery

Texas began a state lottery in 1992 that is governed by the Texas Lottery Commission. The state regulates these lotteries and uses the revenue to fund public goods. Under the law, the following are legal and governed by the state: scratch-off tickets, Mega Millions, Powerball, Lotto Texas, Texas Two Step, Pick 3, and Daily 4.

History of Legal Gambling in Texas

It stands to reason that as the birthplace of Texas Hold’em, there is a long history of gambling in Texas. Its first brush with legal gambling came in 1933 with the legalization of parimutuel betting on horse races. That reality is widely recognized to be a consequence of the Great Depression era, when the state’s coffers were running thin. That form of gambling is still prominent to this day.

Between then and now, however, there have been some complex issues. When the state of Texas seized tribal lands in the 50s and 60s, there began a long-standing dispute that continues to linger. With the nominal re-integration of the tribes into federal and state relationships, the Indian Gaming Act was formed, which gave the Indian tribes the right to operate gambling centers of the kind that were permissible anywhere else in the state. 

However, multiple administrations with differing views subdued the growth of the casinos opened by the three major tribes of the state - the Kickapoo Tribe, the Tigua tribe, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. The administration’s foibles typically centered around their belief that these casinos violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Among the consequences was the shutting down of the Tigua tribe’s Speaking Rock Casino in 2002, which was rebranded and opened as the Speak Rock Entertainment Center in 2016. Additional prominent litigation occurred in 2016, when the state of Texas tried to shut down Naskila Gaming - which is run by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. In September 2021, a federal court ruled that Naskila Gaming is legal under a 1987 Restoration Act. It is among the prime land-based casinos that operate in the state, alongside the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino.

Top Texas Land-Based Casinos

Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino (Eagle Pass)

Location: 794 Lucky Eagle Dr, Eagle Pass, TX 78852, United States
Gaming options: 1200+ slots games, roulette, Blackjack, Craps, Live Keno

Naskila Gaming (Livingston)

Location: 540 State Park Rd 56, Livingston, TX 77351
Gaming options: Slots and electronic games

Lone Star Park (Grand Prairie)

Location: 1000 Lone Star Pkwy, Grand Prairie, TX 75050, United States
Gaming options: Live horse race wagers

Retama Park (Selma)

Location: 1 Retama Pkwy, Selma, TX 78154, United States
Gaming options: Live horse race wagers

Sam Houston Race Park (Houston) 

Location: 7575 North Sam Houston Pkwy W, Houston, TX 77064, United States
Gaming options: Live horse race wagers

Online Gambling Texas FAQ

What happens if you gamble online in Texas?

While online gambling is not legal in Texas, players have traditionally not been fined or prosecuted. Like many states where gambling is illegal, the government prioritizes action against operators as opposed to individual players. That said, online gambling always carries a risk, so it's up to you whether you'd like to take that risk.

Are gambling apps legal in Texas?

As any sort of real money online gambling is illegal in Texas, use of gambling apps that require real money is not legal in Texas. However, there are many free-play gambling apps available for both iOS and Android, so players can still enjoy the thrill of gambling with none of the risk.

How can I legally bet online in Texas?

As there are no specific laws permitting legal gambling, you cannot legally bet online in Texas. However, many offshore casinos welcome players who live in Texas. These are often licensed and regulated entities with an international presence, but playing at them is something of a grey area, and there are no legal protections should you choose to do so.