“A Texas Ban on Gambling That Doesn’t Quite Work”
Casino gambling with cash payoffs is illegal in Texas. But on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in February, you could not tell it by the scene inside a former tire shop near this Rio Grande Valley border town: a few dozen men and women gambling on 75 slot machines in windowless rooms.
Despite laws saying otherwise, casinos thrive throughout the state, an underground billion-dollar industry that operates in a murky realm and engages in a perpetual cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. It is unlawful for slot-machine casinos to pay cash to gamblers, but it is legal to own, operate and play the machines in Texas, as long as the prizes are cheap noncash items such as coffee pots.
“It’s like the poor man’s speakeasy in Texas,” said Richard B. Roper III, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw a 2007 case that shut an Amarillo gambling room that made up to $4,600 weekly and whose operators bribed a law enforcement official to avoid being raided. He added, “If the guy’s willing to pay off a cop, there’s got to be some money to be made.”