When it comes to gambling law, Texas is one of the strictest states in the country. So it is not surprising to know there are no commercial casinos in the state. And only one tribal casino.
Certain forms of gambling are allowed in Texas, such as the state lottery, pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, and charitable games like bingo and raffles. Texas also permits poker clubs that charge a fee for membership or table time rather than raking pots. About 30 such clubs are scattered throughout the state.
As a result, those in Texas wishing to gamble in a casino are likely going to need to travel elsewhere to do so.
Oklahoma is a popular destination with its dozens of tribal casinos. Those in the eastern part of the state can travel to Louisiana to visit their many tribal and riverboat casinos, or to Arkansas where there are also places to gamble. Meanwhile, those on the western side of the state can visit the tribal casinos and racinos in New Mexico.
Texas lawmakers do occasionally revisit the issue of whether or not to bring casino gambling to the Lone Star State. But the general tenor of the debate has mostly opposed such a move. It is likely the legislature will continue to resist the idea going forward, at least in the near future.
Here is an overview of the current conversation about Texas casinos and what the future might hold.
Texas is the largest state by size in the continental United States. It is also the second-most populated with close to 29 million residents, behind only California. But there is only one casino in the entire state, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel in Eagle Pass, close to the Mexico border.
The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas operates the casino located about 100 miles south of San Antonio. The property first opened in 1996 and was rebuilt in 2004 before expanding in 2013.
With a Class II gaming license, the casino offers bingo, keno and non-banked card games such as poker. However, no Vegas-style table games such as blackjack, craps or roulette exist on the property. In fact, Texas is one of only four states that entirely forbids tribes from offering any Class III casino games. The other states on that short list:
That said, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel does offer a large number of slots-like electronic bingo games that technically fall under what the Class II license allows.
There are a couple of other land-based gaming facilities in the state as well, neither of which are full-fledged casinos.
The Naskila Entertainment Center, operated by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, sits about 90 miles northeast of Houston. There is also the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso run by the Tigua Indians of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.
Both of these gaming centers offer the same Class II gaming machines and bingo found at the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel. Both have also faced frequent legal battles with the state over the years, including being shut down on occasion.
In early 2021, a University of Houston survey showed 70% of Texans favored legalizing and taxing casino gambling. However, the prospects for casinos coming to Texas appear especially remote given both the current political climate and intense lobbying efforts against casino gambling in the state.
A number of lobbyists hired by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation spanning 2020 and 2021 have represented the other side of the Texas casino argument.
Such lobbyists have attempted to persuade lawmakers sitting on the Texas House Licensing and Administrative Procedure Committee and other relevant committees to reconsider the state’s anti-casino stance.
There have been a few instances where lawmakers have been convinced that casinos could add new tax revenues and create new jobs in the state.
One House member, Rep. Joe Deshotel, proposed gambling expansion bills multiple times in the past. Deshotel introduced a new bill in 2021 that would allow casinos in certain parts of the state. Another Democrat, Sen. Roland Gutierrez, also proposed a Senate bill in early 2021 to add a constitutional amendment that would permit the construction of up to 12 casinos in counties whose residents voted to approve casino gaming.
To this point, however, such legislation has never advanced very far. Progress has routinely been stymied both by opposing lawmakers and the state’s politically powerful conservative groups. Current Gov. Greg Abbott has also expressed opposition to casinos, and his approval would be needed to authorize them.
Out-of-state interests have made things more difficult for proponents of Texas casinos as well. In fact, some of the largest contributions to campaigns against Texas casino bills have been funded by operators of casinos in Oklahoma and Louisiana.
There are a number of large, noteworthy casinos just beyond the borders of Texas, including in Mexico. Here are a few of the most popular ones in nearby states.
Just five miles north of the state line in Thackerville, is one of the world’s largest casinos, the WinStar World Casino and Resort. WinStar is actually multiple “gaming plazas” rolled into one, with an incredible 370,000 square feet of total gaming space.
With over 8,500 slots, more than 100 table games, and a poker room with 55 tables, WinStar is an especially popular destination for Oklahomans and Texans alike. Also, as a tribal casino operated by the Chickasaw Nation, the minimum age to gamble at WinStar is just 18 years old.
Located in Hobbs, a few miles from the Texas border, the Zia Park Casino Hotel & Racetrack is another popular destination for Texans, especially those who enjoy slots and horse racing.
Technically a “racino,” Zia Park is operated by Penn National Gaming. The property features 750 slots and video poker games as well as a quarter horse and thoroughbred race track.
Located in Hot Springs is the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, the largest gambling facility in Arkansas. A couple of hours northeast of Texarkana, Oaklawn features a thoroughbred race track, more than 1,500 slots, over 30 table games, a race and sportsbook, and a small poker room.
Those in east Texas might also look to Louisiana for casino gambling options, starting with the multiple casinos in Bossier City.
Boomtown Bossier City, Horseshoe Bossier City, and Margaritaville Resort Casino are all popular riverboat casinos, as is Harrah’s Louisiana Downs racino. All four of these Bossier City casinos feature 1,200 or more slots and video poker machines as well as a wide selection of table games.
There are a couple more popular riverboat casinos just over the border in Lake Charles, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Houston.
Golden Nugget Lake Charles Hotel & Casino features 1,600 slots and 60 table games. Meanwhile, L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles also has about 1,600 slots and 75 table games. Both casinos also feature small poker rooms.