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What is Keeping a Gambling Place in Texas?

Keeping a gambling place in Texas is the criminal offense of allowing someone to use a premises for gambling. This offense is commonly used to bust gaming rooms and mom-and-pop gas stations that have gambling machines that give out tokens or tickets that could be exchanged for something of value.

Texas has some of the strictest gambling laws in the nation – and most confusing. While it’s legal to bet on horse races, buy a lottery ticket, or participate in office pools, basically any other semblance of gambling is against the law. This includes operating game rooms with eight-liners or video slot machines that pay out cash prizes.

In Texas, keeping a gambling place is a criminal offense. This law was created to help prevent the proliferation of illegal gambling operations in the state. However, some feel that this law goes too far and unfairly targets business owners. In North Texas, it is not uncommon for owners of gas stations, truck stops, or convenience stores with eight-liners to be arrested and for police to seize motherboards from the machines or the machines themselves.

In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the law against keeping a gambling place in Texas and explore the controversy surrounding it and the consequences of violating it. If you or a loved one have been accused of a gambling offense in North Texas, call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with an experienced gambling attorney and find out how we can fight your charges.

What constitutes illegal gambling in Texas?

Under Texas law, a person commits illegal gambling if he or she:

  • makes a bet on the partial or final result of a game or contest;
  • makes a bet on the result of a political nomination, appointment or election;
  • plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls or any other gambling device.

So, it’s illegal to gamble on sports, elections or play games like poker or eight-liners for money in Texas.

What is the law against keeping a gambling place in Texas?

According to Texas Penal Code 47.04, a person commits the offense of “keeping a gambling place if he or she “knowingly uses or permits another to use as a gambling place any real estate, building, room, tent, vehicle, boat or other property whatsoever owned by him or under his control or rents or lets any such property with a view or expectation that it be so used.”

As you can see, this is a very broad definition that basically encompasses everything and anything that could be used as a gambling venue. This includes not only eight-liner rooms or video poker bars, but also vehicles, boats and even tents. Casinos are also illegal in Texas.

What’s the controversy surrounding eight-liners and game rooms?

The use of eight-liners and video poker machines has been a source of controversy for decades. Texas outlaws the use of gambling devices, such as eight-liners. However, there is a loophole – known as the “fuzzy animal exception” – which allows game rooms to operate eight-liners under the condition that they award cashless prizes or prizes that aren’t worth more than $5 or 10 times more than the game’s cost.

Oftentimes, undercover officers will go into gas stations, truck stops or game rooms with eight-liners to ensure that the machine or business owner is not paying out cash or exceeding the statutory minimum prize amount. If they see a violation, they will obtain a warrant and arrest the business owner on the charge of keeping a gambling place and seize the motherboards or machines.

What is the punishment for keeping a gambling place in Texas?

Keeping a gambling place in Texas is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine. The gaming machines or their motherboards can also be seized by police.

What are some examples of people being arrested for keeping a gambling place in Texas?

Busts of gambling establishments often make headlines. Here’s a look at some arrest stories around the Lone Star State:

  • In April 2022, Azle police arrested two men in after receiving a tip that The Smoke Garage, which bills itself as a smoke or vape shop, was paying cash prizes to players of its eight-liner machines.
  • Laredo police issued arrest warrants in April 2022 for two employees of the Sure Stay Hotel on allegations that they were operating an illegal eight-liner business. Undercover operations revealed that the slot machines were paying out cash.
  • In 2019, a game room employee was arrested and eight other people were issued citations after a police raid involving eight-liners at the Gift Shop game room in South Fort Worth
  • In 2018, a Waco woman was arrested after an investigation into the use of eight-liner machines and allegations of illegal cash payouts at Shisha Smoke Shop and Game Room.
  • Corpus Christi police served a search warrant on a game room in March 2022 and arrested three men and a women on suspicion of illegal gambling. Fourteen other patrons were also issued warning citations for gambling. Officials seized gambling equipment, two vehicles and cash.

Are there affirmative defenses to keeping a gambling place in Texas?

Yes, there are several affirmative defenses to keeping a gambling place in Texas. An affirmative defense allows a defendant to avoid criminal responsibility for the offense. If you can show that any of the following occurred, you can avoid prosecution for keeping a gambling place in Texas:

1) The gambling occurred in a private place;

2) No one received any economic benefit other than personal winnings; and

3) Except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all participants.

It’s important to note that, just because there are legal defenses available, doesn’t mean you won’t get arrested. These defenses would likely be raised until the case progresses through the system, or even goes to trial. It’s important to contact an experienced attorney who understands the intricacies of Texas’ gambling law if you have been accused of any gambling crime, even if you believe you were operating legally and under the law.

Accused of keeping a gambling place in North Texas? Contact Us.

The law against keeping a gambling place in Texas is confusing and often results in unfair arrests and charges. If you’ve been accused of keeping a gambling place, contact Varghese Summersett today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with an experienced gambling attorney. We have defended numerous people in your situation and we can help you, too.

Varghese Summersett is a premier criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Our attorneys focus exclusively on criminal law and represent clients charged with crimes at both the state and federal level. We handle everything from DWI to capital murder to white collar crime. Collectively, our attorneys bring together more than 100 years of criminal law experience and have tried more than 550 cases before Texas juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in Criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. We are the firm people turn to when the stakes are high and they are facing the biggest problem in their lives. - Contact Varghese at  
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