The Biggest Factors Working Against Texas Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Aug 21, 2023 12:00 AM
What are the biggest factors that hold back Texas sports betting?

Another failed attempt to legalize Texas sports betting this past winter has left many looking for what must change in advance of the next legislative sessions. That search has proven…quite informative.

Despite what many have mused, sports betting in Texas hasn’t continued to flop because of beliefs ingrained into the fabric of the state. Many see that The Lone Star State skews ultra-conservative and just assume those political leanings account for the absence of sports gambling. Indeed, that’s certainly part of it. But it’s not the entire issue. 

In fact, it’s not even close to the entire issue. A 2023 study conducted at the University of Houston found that 75 percent of Texans support some form of legal sports betting. What’s more, that same poll showed roughly 70 percent of born-again Christians are okay with the idea of legal sports betting. That’s a big deal, since born-again Christians are considered to hold some of the most conservative views of any identifying religion.

So, if it’s not purely religious or moral opposition standing in the way of Texas sports betting, what else should we be monitoring leading into next year’s batch of legal-gambling debates?

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick May be the Biggest Roadblock to Texas Sports Betting

Let’s start with the most obvious, most frequently discussed and, perhaps, the biggest one: Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. He is a staunch opponent of legal sports betting in Texas and unafraid to reiterate as much. 

We have spent ample time trying to spot the core of Patrick’s stance. Truth be told, nothing really stands out. He has consistently said there isn’t enough support to seriously deliberate the matter inside the Texas Senate. We find that hard to believe. Sports betting has received plenty of support in the Texas House of Representatives, and again, the poll conducted by the University of Houston suggests most constituents have a level of interest in legal sports gambling.

Whatever Patrick’s reasoning, it apparently isn’t related to political affiliation. At least, that’s not the whole reason he’s again sports betting. Many assumed he simply wouldn’t pass a piece of legislation championed by Democrats. But the last Texas sports betting bill was pretty prominently steered by Republicans. Patrick still showed zero interest in supporting. 

It would be unwise to expect his sports betting beliefs to change over the next year—or even the next two. And that could prove problematic for the state. Clearly, Patrick has a ton of influence over the Senate, and he was just re-elected. That, in turn, brings us to The Lone Star State’s next biggest issue.

Texas Voters are Not Necessarily Representative of the State’s Entire Population

If 75 percent of Texans—or anywhere near that many residents—support some form of sports betting, why would the state re-elect Patrick? After all, he ran on a platform openly against commercialized gambling. 

Do citizens just support the rest of his agenda that strongly? Perhaps. More likely, though, the voting population may not actually be representative of the state. As Legal Sports Report’s Bart Shirley wrote:

“Furthermore, older citizens remain both the most likely group to vote and the most likely group to contribute to political causes. In Texas, this cohort tends to look unfavorably upon gambling. Thus, the minority of opposing voters in the state tend to be the most vocal and have the resources to catch the ear of state politicians.”

This tracks with what transpired during the 2022 general elections. According to KFF.org, 64 percent of eligible voters aged 65 and older casted ballots. In the 45 to 64 bracket, that share held relatively firm at 56 percent. Among eligible voters 25 to 34, that number plummeted to 33 percent. It was only slightly higher for the 35 to 44 group, checking in at 44 percent.

While many believe the state’s government needs to see more turnover among lawmakers for sports betting to have a chance, the real key may be appealing to Texas voters under the age of 45.

Texas Sports Betting will Require a Change of Tune on the Casino Industry

This tidbit sometimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of Texas gambling debates. And that makes sense. Everyone is focused on the ubiquity of the best online sportsbooks in the United States and how glaring their absence is in the second-biggest sports market in the country.

Inevitably, though, Texas will have to shift its view on the commercial casino business for sports gambling to have a fair shake. 

Right now, the state doesn’t allow any type of casino gambling, except what takes place at a handful of tribal operations. Many policymakers have been unwilling to open up this structure. Their opposition is wide-ranging. Some don’t want Texas turning into a tourist trap. Others don’t want out-of-state companies diverting revenue from state-run operations. A handful worry about how many other political issues will end up tilted by contributions from these would-be commercial casinos. 

Theoretically, Texas could legalize sports betting without broadening their casino policies. That would be similar to the setup of sports betting in Tennessee. They allow only online operations at this point. Texas has yet to discuss this model, as far as we can tell. But we’d bet on someone proposing a similar structure in the next couple of years if more headway isn’t made on the overall Texas sports gambling conversation. 

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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