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If there is one state in America that has a claim to the strongest historic connection to gambling, it has to be Texas. The most popular form of poker in the world is named after the state, and our visions of “Old West” saloons and gamblers taking to the road and living from town to town all come from the Lone Star State.

Despite these romantic notions, however, Texas is actually a state with relatively little gaming today. There are a few options out there, of course, but resort casinos haven’t yet made their way into the state. Even Indian gaming has struggled to gain a foothold here. And despite one very strong proponent for the idea, online gambling sites aren’t likely to be regulated here in the near future.

Casinos Rarely Seen in State

The story of modern Texas gambling begins, as in many states, with the once popular pastime of horse racing – though even here there is an interesting story that took decades to play out. In 1933, the government allowed for parimutuel betting on horse races as a way to raise revenue. However, there was still a strong anti-gambling sentiment throughout Texas, and it would only be a matter of four years before Governor James Allred had the practice banned in a special legislative session.

For decades, supporters of the horse racing industry would argue in favor of the industry, hoping to bring back the parimutuel wagering. In 1960, a prominent gambler was even elected to the state’s legislature on a platform that was based mostly on an effort to bring back bets on horse races.

There would be several attempts between 1962 and 1978 to bring horse racing back, including one proposal (mostly borne of frustration) to split the state in two – with one of the new states allowing betting on the sport. Finally, in 1987, voters were presented with a referendum to once again legalize the industry, and they approved it. Today, three large tracks host an unlimited amount of racing (Lone Star Park, Retama Park, and Sam Houston Race Park), with more limited licenses also being available. Greyhound tracks are also legal, though only one track regularly holds races (Gulf Greyhound Park).

The Texas Lottery began operating in 1992, following a successful referendum put before the state’s voters the previous year. Given the size of the state, and the lack of other gaming options, the success of lottery was inevitable: daily and weekly sales records were shattered once the first sales began in June 1992. Today, the state not only offers its own lottery games, but also participates in interstate games like Mega Millions and Powerball. And despite one brief scare in 2013, in which the state legislature momentarily seemed ready to end the Lottery Commission, the drawings have taken place unabated ever since.

That brings us to the question of casino gaming. There are no commercial casinos in the state, though there are cruises that offer such games by traveling out into international waters from locations like Corpus Christi.

However, Native American tribes do offer some limited options on land. At the moment, there is only one resort-style venue in the state: the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass, operated by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. Only “Class II” gaming is permitted at this location, however, meaning that players are limited to poker, bingo, and some electronic games – though not true slot machines.

Other tribes also attempted to offer gaming. The two other tribes in the state with federal recognition – the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe – both attempted to open casinos at various times. However, both tribes had negotiated for their federal recognition through the Restoration Act, a move that specifically prevented them from legally offering gambling. Eventually, courts sided with the state, and these operations were closed by 2002.

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Interest Expressed in Online Poker, But Little Action

Given Texas’ connection to poker history, you might expect that poker at least – if not all casino games – would be legal to play online. However, the state has shown little interest in regulating the industry, even though there are some powerful names that have lobbied for it both at the state and federal levels.

If you’re familiar with federal legislation on Internet gambling, you may be familiar with Representative Joe Barton, a Republican Congressman from Texas. On multiple occasions, Barton has introduced legislation to Congress hoping to regulate Internet poker (though not necessarily other games). Barton has also been in favor of allowing social poker (and, perhaps, more commercial options) in Texas – though given his position, his focus is on federal policy.

On the state level, there have been proposed bills that would either allow jumping into Internet gaming should it be regulated at the federal level. But this legislation has never garnered a particularly high level of support, and the Attorney General has opposed the idea.

Still, there are ways to play online if you’re in the state. Many real money casino sites accept players from Texas. The state is a legal grey market and since there are no laws against playing on these sites, many Texans choose to do so, safe from any legal repercussions.

Racing Industry In Turmoil

One of the hottest gaming-related issues at the moment has to do with the future of the parimutuel betting industry. In 2015, the Racing Commission began allowing the practice of “historical racing” at horse tracks, a type of betting in which players can bet on past races without seeing the names of the horses or other information. In essence, these games are very slot machine-like – something that has proven controversial.

The move to legalize that form of betting has led to a standoff between the state legislature and the Commission, with lawmakers saying that it represents a sneaky method of gambling expansion. They asked the Commission to repeal the historical racing machines, but the Commission could not come to an agreement to do so. That’s set up the threat of retaliation from the government, with some legislators saying that the Commission could be defunded in early 2016 – something that would essentially shut down the horse racing industry.

When it comes to the wider gambling landscape, nothing is likely to change. There is little movement for more land-based casino options, and even less in the online world, where Texas will likely be a late adopter (though given their large population, they will likely to face significant pressure from developers on both fronts).

Lawmakers have reached out to learn more about the possibility of Internet gaming – talking to Delaware about their experiences, for instance – but that’s a long way from deciding to actually implement regulations of their own. Still, players here can hold out some hope; even a little movement puts them ahead of some states that appear outright hostile to the concept of Internet casinos.

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