Texas, as they used t’ say in these here parts, is like a whole other country. And that country is enamored with football like Canada is with hockey or Brazil with soccer.
As for the betting side of things, well, as they still say in these here parts online, it’s complicated. It’s a long torrid love affair with gambling and all other natures of vice, a relationship sometimes celebrated and sometimes the target of Bible-thumping ire.
As for any supposed contradictions y’all may think you see within this state’s love for football and more secret adoration for betting, well, y’see, this here is Texas…
Betting in Texas
Flying slightly against convention (again, this here is Texas!), NFLbets’ll pick up our story in the middle and kinda just wander around a little bit before gettin’ t’ today and all. With the rise of Texas’s oil barons in the first half of the 20th century along with the subsequent community building and urban development, the old 19th-century, Wild West-style venues of vice evolved into 20th-century casinos and bordellos.
In Texas’s larger cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Galveston, this was quite literally the case and “vice districts” were open for business and doing so briskly essentially until Prohibition.
By 1940, Texas was quite literally a world power in oil production and the archetypical free-spending, heartily-partying,10-gallon hat wearin’ oil millionaire letting the chips fly in Las Vegas was fodder for lame TV and pulp fiction novels everywhere. That dude would suddenly have to go to Vegas for a good time betting, anyway. In ’41, Texas’s final vice district in San Antonio was shut down; this would be the end of legal (or semi-legal) casino-style betting in Texas until *2016* with the Naskila Gaming Center of 300 electronic bingo machines on Native American land opening up, and that venue has been in and out of court since.
So the raids of 1941 meant extinction of betting in Texas, right? Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrrrre. Once again, Texas became the Wild West, with legends of frequently raided, high-stakes poker games held in secret in tiny towns. The now legendary Doyle Brunson was just one of many who honed their craft while running up dozens of arrests. In addition, busting sportsbook operations after the general crackdown throughout the U.S. in the 50s became a year-round activity for local law enforcement officials as well.
Such illegal betting was met with harsher and harsher penalties through to the turn of the century. By that time, Texas’s laws on gambling called for the country’s harshest penalties. Needless to say, illegal betting operations have dried up in Texas by our time.
Football in Texas
It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of football in the average Texan’s life. Nearly as impossible is a tight summation of the history of football in Texas – even merely high-level football – in such a small space as that provided here. So we’ll do this bullet-point style.
• 1894. In October, the first official game between college teams was played in the Lone Star State, as Texas A&M lost to Texas in Austin, 38-0. The presence of Texan teams among the nation’s powerhouses would take some time to progress and here, the explosive growth concomitant with the oil boom spurred development of Texas college football teams.
• 1938. Texas Christian University (a.k.a. TCU) becomes the first Texas-based school to win the national college football title. This all-time great team of early college football went 11-0, outscored opponents 269-60 (for an average score of about 25-6), and included future Hall of Famers Davey O’Brien and head coach Dutch Meyer. Texas A&M took the crown in ’39, and Texas’s general reputation was solidified.
• 1952. Perhaps because of the general craze in the state for college and high school football, the NFL only attempts to build a franchise in Texas three decades after the league’s formation. The 1952 Dallas Texans beat the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day, lost their other 11 games and folded after the season.
• 1960. Talk about your booms: How about an pro football boom? After years of next to nothing, the NFL introduced the Dallas Cowboys, while the rogue AFL brought the Dallas Texans and Houston Oilers to the field. The packed houses of the Cowboys soon had the Texans fleeing to Kansas City, while the Oilers would also have to leave town before making a Super Bowl. As for the Cowboys, for now NFLbets will note that they are in fact #1 in all-time winning percentage and are just one of four teams to have won at least five Super Bowls; we’ll have plenty of time to admire the depths of despair further down.
• 1963. The Texas Longhorns go 11-0, holding onto the #1 spot in the national Associated Press poll from mid-October and concluding the season with a victory over Roger Staubach’s no. 2-ranked Navy team. This represents the first college football title for the team and the first major highlight in a now-storied history.
• 1969. In a rare #1 vs #2 regular-season matchup, the Longhorns traveled to play the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Longhorns came back from a 14–0 deficit after three quarters to win 15–14, and would go on to become national champions. This iteration of the Longhorns produced the 1970 no. 1 overall NFL draft pick in Bob McKay, five second-rounders, four fourth-rounders and one of football's all time great names at kicker, Happy Feller. It was also the last all-white team to be named consensus national champions with the onset of racial integration, so there’s that.
• 1971. NFLbets don’t like to quote Wikipedia very often, but we’ll throw in the virtual encyclopedia’s concise description of college football rarity: “On October 30, 1971 TCU coach Jim Pittman collapsed on the sideline in Waco shortly after the annual game between the Horned Frogs and [Baylor] Bears began. … Coach Pittman was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The TCU and Baylor players were informed at halftime, and it was decided to honor Coach Pittman's memory by finishing the game, which TCU rallied to win 34-27. This remains the first, and to date only, time in college football history that a coach died on the field during a game.”
• 1971-72. The Cowboys appear in Super Bowls V and VI. In Super Bowl V, the Cowboys were shut out 10-0 in the second half and fell victim to a Baltimore Colts field goal with 0:05 remaining. In VI, however, the Cowboys took care of business against Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins with a crushing 24-3 win.
• 1975. The Florida Blazers relocate to become the San Antonio Wings for the 1975 WFL season. Nobody notices.
• 1978. Between two losses to *those* Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cowboys dismantle the Broncos in Super Bowl XII, 24-3.
• 1984. The Houston Gamblers and San Antonio Gunslingers join the USFL; both are bottom-feeders on the attendance table, and the Gunslingers ultimately go down as one of the worst franchise ever to play in the rogue league.
• 1997. One year after winning Super Bowl XXX, Barry Switzer’s Dallas Cowboys lose to the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs following the 1996 season. Thus begins an 0-6 playoff run that would see the Cowboys go winless in the postseason until 2009; adding to the schadenfreude, the Cowboys haven’t gotten so far as the conference title game in the subsequent 22 seasons after the loss.
• 1998. The Prairie View A&M Panthers top the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, 37-7, in Beaumont, the ’Cats’ 80th consecutive loss. Even more notably, several members of both universities’ bands were involved in a halftime brouhaha which resulted in the suspension of the two groups for two weeks, certainly the harshest penalty ever assessed a band by the NCAA for in-game actions. Prairie View simply ignored the ban and took a $31,000 fine instead.
• 2002. The “Texans” moniker is taken down, brushed off and used once more by the NFL, as the Houston Texans are born as the NFL’s 32nd franchise. David Carr goes to Houston with the no. 1 pick in the NFL Draft that year, and he remains the starter for five seasons.
• 2005. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the damage done to New Orleans’s Superdome, the Alamodome in San Antonio serves as home field for three Saints games, and the team registers its only home win in San Antonio in that dismal 3-13 season. This use of the Alamadome was later used as an apparent bargaining chip in a brief flirtation with the Oakland Raiders’ leadership in 2014, but Mark Davis just had no love for Texas over Vegas.
• 2005-06. The Texas Longhorns go 12-0 and finish the season by beating no. 2 USC, 41-38, in the Rose Bowl. This national championship game immediately went down in sports history as a top-5 all-time great college football game. It’s also makes for some of the last highlights in the football career of Vince Young, who would soon be ruined forever by head coach Jeff Fischer (sic).
• 2012. A local kid named Johnny Manziel starts at QB for Texas A&M, wins the Heisman Trophy and essentially all other possible awards, and together with WR Mike Evans leads the team to an 11-2 season and a no. 5 rating. Manziel plays one more season with A&M, breaks a few school records in a five-TD game against Alabama, and then utterly flames out in the NFL as he seemingly prefers partying heartily than playing for the Cleveland Browns.
As of this writing in 2018, Johnny Football has become Johnny Canadian Football, attempted a comeback to the NFL via the CFL’s flailing Montreal Alouettes. Bonne chance, Petit Jean!
• 2019. Behind the incredible DeShaun Watson and a preposterously good defense that generally manages to avoid long-term injuries, the Texans beat 10/1 odds to win the AFC and reach Super Bowl LIII.
Betting on football in Texas
Considering that numerous big-money casino resort proposals have been consistently shot down at all levels of government in the 2010s, it’s hard to imagine any expansion to any area of gambling, including betting on football, in Texas. In fact, daily fantasy football betting might be illegal in Texas right now were it not for the gamble of DFS provider Draft Kings.
In February 2016, then-Texas district attorney Ken Paxton asserted in a legal opinion that, “Under section 47.02 of the Penal Code, a person commits an offense if he or she makes a bet on the partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest. Because the outcome of games in daily fantasy sports leagues depends partially on chance, an individual’s payment of a fee to participate in such activities is a bet. Accordingly, a court would likely determine that participation in daily fantasy sports leagues is illegal gambling under section 47.02 of the Penal Code.”
Within a month or so, Fan Duel settled out of court with the state, agreeing to no longer accept Texas residents as players. At about the same time, Draft Kings took the exact opposite tack and sued Paxton. Thanks to the speedy course of due process and the swift action taken by legislators to modify state law regarding DFS, Draft Kings managed to do steady business in Texas for the two years following Paxton’s statement and has even furthered its plans for the state, pending the New Jersey cases in the Supreme Court.
It seems that said brisk business will remain in the gray area of Texas law on gambling. Texas’s sole casino, the Naskila Gaming Center, is likely to see closure forced upon it by 2020 via legal means, and Texas will certainly be one of the final holdouts among states to legalize betting on football, along with the likes of Utah, Hawaii and Georgia.
And if you don’t like it, well, y’see … this here is Texas, y’all.