Illegal Gambling Under State and Federal Law

Illegal gambling has stood the test of time, aligning with sports, games of chance, and luck. Throughout history, individuals have engaged in betting activities, often of a benign nature, flying under the radar of law enforcement.

It’s crucial to understand the strict rules from both state and federal governments about gambling. Running an illegal gambling venture can land you in jail. Texas presents a spectrum of illegal gambling variations, necessitating a clear understanding of what falls within the legal bounds.

Understanding Illegal Gambling in Texas Law

In Texas, participating in gambling means placing bets on how a game, contest, or someone’s performance turns out. As outlined in Texas Penal Code 47.01, bet is defined as an agreement where you could win or lose something valuable, mostly based on chance or luck.

Federal Law Simplified

18 United States Code §1955 defines an “illegal gambling business” as a gambling operation that:

  • Violates the law of the state or political subdivision in which it is conducted,
  • It involves five or more people who conduct, finance, manage, supervise, direct, or own all or part of such a business, and
  • Has been or remains in substantially continuous operation for more than 30 days or has a gross revenue of $2,000 in any single day.

What Constitutes Illegal Gambling?

In Texas, illegal gambling involves engaging in certain activities that violate the state’s laws on games of chance and betting. Here are key elements that constitute illegal gambling in Texas:

Making Bets:

  • As outlined in Texas Penal Code 47.01, a “bet” is defined as an agreement to win or lose something of value, either wholly or partially by chance. Engaging in any form of betting, such as placing wagers on the outcome of a game, contest, or the performance of a participant, is considered illegal.


  • Bookmaking, as defined in the penal code (47.01(2)(B) and 47.01(2)(C)), involves acts where a person or entity records or forwards offers to bet totaling more than $1,000 in a 24-hour period. It also includes schemes by three or more individuals to receive, record, or forward bets.

Gambling Establishments:

  • Owning, operating, or using any property, like a building, room, tent, vehicle, boat, or other, where bets are made, settled, bookmaking occurs, or gambling devices are played, constitutes participating in illegal gambling. This is defined under Texas Penal Code 47.01(3).

Explore the Illegal Forms of Gambling

In Texas, several forms of gambling activities are considered illegal under state law. Here are some key examples:

  1. Betting on Games or Contests:
    Betting on games, contests, or participant performances, such as sports and games played with cards or dice, is illegal in Texas.
  2. Possession of Gambling Devices:
    Having or using devices specifically designed for gambling, such as slot machines or other gaming devices, is illegal.
  3. Online Gambling:
    Online gambling, including poker, sports betting, and casino games, is generally prohibited in Texas.
  4. Operating Slot Machines:
    Operating or possessing slot machines, unless they are located in licensed casinos on Native American reservations, is against the law.
  5. Social Gambling Restrictions:
    Even in social settings, certain restrictions apply. While friendly poker games among friends may be acceptable, organized or commercialized social gambling ventures can still fall under the category of illegal activities.

Penalties for Illegal Gambling

Being convicted of gambling is considered a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, and the maximum fine you could get is up to $500, according to state law.

But if prosecutors bring in Title 11 of the Texas Penal Code (engaging in organized crime activity), things get more serious. In this case, a conviction might lead to a state jail felony. This means facing a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum of two years in a state correctional facility.

For federal violators, the law specifies that the term of imprisonment may not exceed five years, and fines may not exceed $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations.

What is Gambling Promotion and What Are its Penalties?

According to Penal Code 47.03, it’s against the law to promote illegal gambling in Texas. This includes knowingly running or making money from a gambling place, doing bookmaking, or taking care of anything valuable connected to a bet.

Breaking this law is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas. In the event of a guilty verdict, potential consequences include a maximum of one year in jail and a fine reaching up to $4,000.

Defense Strategies for Gambling Charges

Defending against gambling charges in Texas requires a strategic approach tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. While legal advice from an attorney is crucial, here are some general defense strategies that may be employed:

Show Legit Activities:

  • Prove that what you were doing wasn’t really gambling but just a legal way to have fun. Perhaps the activity involved more skill than luck.

Challenge the Proof:

  • Look at the evidence the other side has. If they got it in a way that broke the rules or if there were mistakes, you might be able to say it shouldn’t be allowed in court.

Check Your Rights:

  • See if your rights were respected during your arrest or when they were looking into things. If they broke the rules in how they treated you, it might help your case.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

Navigating illegal gambling in Texas is like having a roadmap through a legal maze that stretches beyond state lines. The definitions in the penal code matter not only in Texas courts but also impact federal rules on gambling. If facing charges, having a criminal defense attorney is more than a choice—it’s a vital lifeline. Tailored defense strategies, like questioning intent or negotiating plea deals, can significantly impact the outcome.