Texas Sports Betting and Casino Bills Make Progress, Face Uphill Battle

Grant Mitchell
Grant Mitchell
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  • Three bills in total were advanced out of the committee
  • Texas’ three casinos cannot provide a full list of traditional offerings
  • A compromise that would send a portion of gaming tax funds to a university endowment could prove crucial to the bills’ outcome

A committee in the Texas House of Representatives Monday advanced three bills that would legalize sports betting and expand casino access.

HB1942 and HJR102 would legalize sports betting, and HB2843 would legalize casinos and sports betting. All forms of gambling, aside from the state lottery, horse racing and dog racing, are illegal in Texas.

There are three tribal-owned casinos in Texas, but they are limited in their offerings. Locals also cannot place bets with any in-person or online sportsbooks as it stands.

Breaking ground

The House State Affairs Committee voted 9-3 in favor of all three bills without discussion. All three opposing votes were cast by Republicans—Reps. Will Metcalf (Conroe), Shelby Slawson (Stephenville) and John Smithee (Amarillo).

The proposals are already receiving more support than similar pieces of legislation did last year when they failed to make it past committee hearings. The early support is symbolic of the building momentum inside of Texas that stems from increased support from lawmakers and public pressure.

American casino and resorts company Las Vegas Sands has been an integral part in pushing gambling legislation in Texas and is at the center of the recent success.

“The efforts to bring destination resorts to Texas made significant progress with [Monday’s] vote,” said Matt Hirsch, a spokesperson for Las Vegas Sands. “Texans have made it clear that they want destination resorts in Texas, and we are now one step closer to ultimately allowing them to decide on this issue.”

Even if the bills are approved by a two-thirds vote in both chambers—which is daunting enough in and of itself, especially in the Senate—they would then need to be approved by voters on the November ballot.

Proponents are arguing that legalizing casinos and sports betting would create a massive economic influx because of how alluring and popular the gambling market has proven to be nationwide. Texas is also the second-most-populous state and has several landmark cities that would be attractive destinations for local and visiting gamblers.

There are also prevalent professional sports teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Astros, and Dallas Mavericks inside state borders, which would give bettors plenty of opportunities to support their favorite hometown heroes at the sportsbooks.

Path to legalization

This is the furthest that sports betting and casino legislation has made it in Texas, but the bills are still many steps away from the finish line. They will also be the hardest to take due to the prevalent opposition they are facing, a majority of which is based on concerns that legal sports betting and casinos will increase the number of problem gamblers.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has firm control of the Senate, is a longstanding and unwavering opponent of sports betting. He has repeatedly shot down any hopes of gambling legislation and has not changed his stance.

“Unless I have 15 to 16 Republicans, meaning it’s a Republican-driven bill because we’re a Republican-driven state, I’m not bringing a bill to the floor,” Patrick said recently. “I need Republican consensus, otherwise it’s a Democrat bill.”

HB1942 and HB2843 will likely draw criticism from Patrick, which is why the committee created HJR102. It is an amended “committee substitute” that allocates a sizable portion of tax revenue from gambling towards a university endowment that Patrick suggested and is pushing for. As much as 80% of taxable revenue could be sent to in-state schools with the intent to boost their research abilities.

Pro-gambling lawmakers and lobbyists also have an important ally on their side: Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). She has close ties to Patrick but is in favor of legalizing sports betting and casino gambling.

Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself in his up-to-the-minute reporting on the latest events in the industry. A member of Virginia Tech’s 2021 graduating class, he has quickly put together an impressive portfolio since moving to the professional world full-time. Grant’s favorite sports to cover are basketball and both types of football (American and soccer), and he is pushing written, audio, and video content. He has been employed by companies as highly regarded as Forbes and continues on a great trajectory in the industry. When he’s not on the clock, you can find Grant at the gym, looking for adventures, or hanging out with his family.