Slot machines are the ultimate prize for Texas gambling outlets, called the “crack cocaine of gambling” by one national commission. Like Texas Horse Racing Tracks, bingo halls have also tried to morph Texas laws to allow them to install slot machines in Texas neighborhoods.

In 2014, the Texas Lottery Commission, which regulates bingo, backed down on an attempt to morph rules on pull-tab bingo to change the game into something resembling slot machines.

“Pull-tab bingo” is a game offered at bingo halls that is very similar to the scratch-off lottery tickets sold at convenience stores. In much the same way that scratch-offs bear little resemblance to jackpot lottery tickets, pull-tab bingo tickets have very little to do with the ink-stamper bingo game most Texans are accustomed to. To play, a bingo hall patron purchases pull-tab cards for a set price. They then pull tabs off of the card to determine if they have won a hidden cash prize of a maximum amount.

The proposed rules would have done several things to effectively turn pull-tab bingo cards into slot machine tokens.

Most importantly, it would have allowed players to verify whether their pull-tab card was a winner by scanning it with a machine (as if pulling a tab is overly burdensome). That machine would have been allowed to resemble a slot machine and feature lights and flashing animation like a slot machine.

The rule change would have also allowed for multiple plays per pull-tab card and would have allowed players to maintain an account with the bingo hall that would not need to be cashed-out until the end of the day, thus allowing players who are “up” to buy more pull-tab cards to feed their addiction.

The major missing element, and possibly the reason the Lottery Commission decided to back down on the proposal, was the lack of a progressive jackpot. House Bill 1186 by State Rep. John Kuempel (R–Seguin) aims to fix that by allowing progressive jackpots of up to $10,000 on pull-tab bingo games.

How does a progressive jackpot on pull-tab bingo cards—like scratch-off lottery tickets—work without the addition of the Lottery Commission rules allowing the use of slot machine-like devices to read the cards? It doesn’t.

The progressive jackpot bill only makes sense if Texas bingo halls are planning to move forward on pushing the Lottery Commission to dust off its 2014 rules change.

Of course, none of that was laid out before the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee. It seemed none of the committee members could even grasp the difference between traditional bingo and pull-tab bingo, yet they unanimously voted the bill forward on an 8-0 basis anyway.

It’s important to note that a provision of HB 1186 banning the game from being played on “gambling devices” would not be an obstacle to using a slot machine-like device to read pull-tab bingo cards. Remember, the game technically takes place in the card itself, not in the machine that simply reads the results of the pull-tab card.

HB 1186 is currently pending in the House Calendars Committee, awaiting scheduling for a vote on the House floor.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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