This letter clarifies the position of the Burnet County Attorney’s office in reference to gambling and gambling devices located within Burnet County. The applicable statutes which govern these activities are located in the Texas Penal Code, Chapter 47. As applicable to this subject, this chapter states:
1) §47.02 – A person commits the offense of gambling if he/she makes a bet on the partial of final result of any game, contest, or performance of a participant in a game or contest. Further, gambling occurs when a person plays and bets for money or other thing of value at any game played with cards, dice, balls, or any other type of gambling device.
It is a valid defense if the gambling occurs in a private place and no person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings and that with the exception of the skill or luck of the participants, the risk of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all of the participants.
2) §47.01(8) – A “private place” is a place where the public does not have access. Among the places that are not private places, but not exclusively, are streets, highways, restaurants, taverns, and nightclubs. Also, the common areas of apartment houses, hotels, motels, office buildings, and shops can not be considered to be a “private place.”
3) §47.01(9) – A “thing of value” means any kind of benefit whatsoever except an unrecorded and immediate right to re-play which is not exchangeable for value.
4) §47.01(1) – A “bet” means an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance.
Specifically excluded from this definition of a “bet” are such situations where a prize, award, or compensation is offered to the contestants of a bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength, or endurance. Also, owners of animals, vehicles, watercraft, or aircrafts entered into such contests are not considered to have made a “bet.”
Gambling devices commonly known as “8-liners” are illegal if used in any way that meets the gambling statute, §47.02 of the Texas Penal Code. Playing poker in any form in public for money or anything of value is also illegal. If any poker game is played in public, there can be no betting for money or thing of value, which includes past, present, or future rewards or prizes. A restaurant, tavern, nightclub, etc. may not section off an area of its premises for a private event where gambling occurs. Such attempts are not considered to be held in a “private place.”
An important note must be made by charitable fundraising groups which commonly hold “casino nights” where poker and other games are commonly held. Often, such events are held in a public place. If operated correctly, these events are considered to be legal. Such events must be operated in a method where no betting occurs. This distinction is accomplished when value is taken out of the chips. Participants may pay to attend the fundraiser event and receive chips for play. More chips may be obtained by payment throughout the event. However, items typically awarded at the end of the evening must not be based upon the chips or success in playing. All chips should be turned in and nothing of value may be given in return. Fundraising groups may still auction any items or services it wishes as long as the auctioned items have no connection to the games played at the event. A raffle may also be held if the fundraising group desires.
All Burnet County law enforcement agencies will work together to enforce all laws, including gambling laws. It is the responsibility of the Burnet County Attorney’s Office to prosecute cases which are filed, including those which involve illegal poker and where “8-liner” machine games have been illegally conducted because a thing of value is awarded
For those who keep a gambling place, possess gambling devices, or promote gambling, such persons shall face class “A” misdemeanor charges which carry a potential punishment range of up to one year to serve in the Burnet County Jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Persons who participate in illegal poker games or play “8-liner” games for prizes or awards of anything of value shall also be prosecuted. These individuals will face class “C” misdemeanor charges which carry a potential punishment of up to a $500 in fines. In both situations, additional court costs may also be assessed.
The Burnet County Attorney’s Office and all Burnet law enforcement agencies are available to assist those seeking an evaluation of any gaming situation regarding the current gambling laws. Please do not hesitate to call for any assistance that these agencies may provide.
Burnet County Attorney