Texas Sports Betting Supporters Aren’t Ready To Throw In The Towel

Sports betting and casino gambling are going to be Herculean-sized lifts in Texas, but supporters appear undaunted.

New, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House (HJR 133) by Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin. In the Senate (SJR 49) was introduced by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. Both bills seek to legalize casino gambling and sports betting in the Lone Star State through a constitutional amendment.

The legislation is backed by Las Vegas Sands and, unsurprisingly, centers on casino gambling, with sports betting included as something of an afterthought:

  • Authorize a total of four casino resorts—one in Austin, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston, and San Antonio.
  • Allow the state’s three federally-recognized Indian tribes to offer a comprehensive suite of gambling.
  • Legalize sports wagering.

“Now is the time to let voters decide on legalizing casino gaming across Texas,” Alvarado said in a statement. “Texas loses billions of dollars a year to our neighboring states that allow gaming and this measure would bring that revenue back to Texas, create tens of thousands of jobs and cut down on illegal gambling.”

An Uphill Battle

In order to become law, the legislation needs to pass each chamber of the legislature with a 2/3 majority followed by the approval of Texas voters in a ballot referendum.

Sitting in its way are alternative proposals, including one supported by the state’s professional sports teams. There is also unbudging opposition (at least thus far) from the state’s Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has the final say on what items are brought up in the Senate.

In early February, Patrick told radio host Chad Hasty on KFYO in Lubbock, “I’ve never been in favor of it.”

Even if Patrick relents, getting 2/3 of the Senate on-board is no small feat.

“We are nowhere close to having the votes for it,” Patrick said. “We don’t even have a bill that has been filed in the Senate on the issue. When you don’t even have a sponsor, it’s not even a bill you spend much time on or think about… I don’t spend much time on it because the members are just against it.”

Can the Two Proposals Turn Into One?

It will be interesting to see how the state progresses on these issues, as there are several unanswered questions, including:

  • Would casino gambling and/or sports betting fare better as a standalone issue?
  • Will the introduction of land-based casinos and tribal gaming operators lead to a bargaining chip or a situation of too many stakeholders in the kitchen? And can differences be worked out?
  • How steadfast is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s opposition to gambling expansion?

The logical path would be for the two proposals to morph into one, building a coalition of stakeholders that includes professional sports teams, sports betting operators, and commercial and tribal casino interests.

Because the new legislation is light on sports betting details, a spokesperson for the Sports Betting Alliance, which represents professional sports teams and sports betting operators in the state, told the Dallas Morning News its focus was on mobile sports betting, “However, several of our member teams and organizations may support these bills individually and any bills that give Texans the opportunity to decide if they want to regulate gaming in Texas.”

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