Recently, the legalization of sports betting in Texas has been deemed a formality by many state officials and, more importantly, plenty of industry experts. While optimism surrounding the future of Texas sports betting in the past, this latest sentiment felt...different.
The tone with which residents and state legislators discuss the matter has noticeably changed. More government officials are open to the idea than before. Heck, more and more government officials are actively calling for legal sports betting in Texas than ever before.
Optimism reached fever pitch back in December. That's when people in the know suggested the legalization of Texas sports betting was on the fast track entering 2023. And yet, we've now entered 2023, and the tenor is already beginning to shift yet again. Legislative meetings are already underway, and there haven't been any real updates on the next sports betting bill.
Most notably, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick recently intimated there may not even be a sports betting bill on the table. Is this merely posturing? Or is the future of sports betting in the Lone Star State actually in jeopardy?
Texas Sports Betting May Not Have as Much Support as Initially Thought
Speaking with reporters, Mr. Patrick indicated that the surge of optimism getting ascribed to Texas sports betting may be misplaced.
"I haven’t had anyone mention it to me, that they are interested in doing anything,” he told NBC affiliate KXAN when asked about the Senate’s appetite for new gambling laws. “A lot of talk out there, but I don’t see any movement on it.”
This is ultimately problematic. A sports betting bill cannot be deliberated and passed if it isn't even officially proposed. What's more, Mr. Patrick still refuses to tip his hand when discussing legal gambling. Almost no one knows where he stands. He hasn't actively dismissed the possibility, but he also hasn't come out in support of it, either.
Relatedly, Texas sports betting is in major trouble if Mr. Patrick doesn't help push for legalization. No one person can stop an entire bill, but he's mission critical to ensuring the conversation gets treated with urgency. As one plugged-in source told Legal Sports Report earlier this month, Mr. Patrick needs to give a "clear signal" he deems sports betting a priority, "otherwise you’re going to have a legislature that is not interested in pursuing something that isn’t blessed by the Lieutenant Governor."
Complicated still, Mr. Patrick's support wouldn't necessarily guarantee a sports betting bill makes it through the House of Representatives and Senate. That process opens up a whole other can of worms.
Does a Texas Sports Betting Bill Have the Votes Required to Pass?
The legalization of Texas sports betting requires a constitutional amendment in 2023. Though this is somewhat routine when dealing with laws at the federal level, it creates an extra barrier for entry at the state level. Constitutional amendments require that two-thirds of the members from the House and Senate approve of the bill. After that, the legislation must still be put to a vote and garner majority support from Texas residents.
The latter is not seen as an obstacle. Multiple surveys have shown Texans are generally open to some form of legal sports betting. But generating two-thirds support from the House and Senate is tougher to project—especially when, as Mr. Patrick notes, the issue isn't currently evoking much urgency.
Lobbyists and public figures have been working overtime as a result. Many of Texas' pro sports franchise owners have come out in active support of expanding Texas gaming laws, including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks (NBA). Coordinated in tandem with the Sports Betting Alliance, the hope is this message will rally vocal support from voters and compel state legislators to side with their constituents' preferences.
Even so, plenty of Texas officials remain outspoken against legal sports betting. Their primary concerns include the increased risk of gambling addiction, predatory advertising and business practices and the expansion of casino presences inside the state. That last issue could be the biggest sticking point of all.Texas has so far opposed casino gaming at a commercial level, but the legalization of sports betting would invite, if not necessitate, the arrival of more brick-and-mortar establishments many legislators can be harmful to the economy.
The Messaging from Texas Sports Betting Supports is Getting More Pointed
It would be easy to dismiss this latest dose of skepticism as futile noise. After all, until now, the prevailing sentiment was that Texas would approve a sports betting bill for the 2024 ballot sometime this year. However, the response from key sports betting supporters is telltale.
Legislators have gotten more cut-and-dry in their messaging. They aren't trying to make elaborate, diplomatic points. Just consider what former Texas Governor Rick Perry told NBC in January: "Texans are already participating in mobile sports betting. Legalization would be a home run for all involved,” he explained. “Neighboring states are cashing in on Texans’ bets.”
Mr. Perry is only half-right. Texans are indeed placing wagers inside neighboring states. But they are also using mobile alternatives. Plenty of reputable sites allow people from Texas to set up and service accounts, including many that appear in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks. It has previously been estimated that Texans are already placing billions of dollars in sports bets every year—even though it's not legal within their state.
Hearing the word "billions" is usually enough to flip even the most stubborn opponents. But Texas' conservative roots run deep. So while we would still guess that a sports betting bill passes in time to make the 2024 ballot, we also wouldn't guarantee it at this point.
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