One day after a coalition of Dallas-based professional sports teams made public their support of a proposal to send the decision to legalize sports betting to Texas voters, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick essentially told a local radio station “not on my watch,” Tuesday, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“I’ve never been in favor of it,” he told radio host Chad Hasty of Lubbock’s KFYO. “We are nowhere close to having the votes for it. 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.”
Patrick isn’t quite right — on Monday a pair of Senate bills that could legalize sports betting were filed. SJR 36 proposes a constitutional amendment be put to voters on Nov. 2, 2021 that would allow for the operation of 12 casinos that could offer myriad games, including sports betting. It was filed along with SB 616, which lays out some framework, including naming the Texas Lottery Commission as the regulator and legalizes “games of chance.” It’s likely that Patrick made his comments without knowing about the filings.
On the House side, one bill has been filed, and a proposal by Rep. Dan Huberty that has the support of local pro franchises is in the works. HB 1121, which was filed in January, seeks to allow statewide mobile wagering, but prohibits betting on college sports. The tax rate would be 6.25% on sports betting revenue, and caps the number of licenses at five.
Huberty’s proposal would allow for operators to partner with professional sports franchises for retail and mobile/online sports betting, would allow for wagering on professional and college sports, sets the application fee at $500,000 for digital platforms and $50,000 for retail-only locations, and names the Dept. of Licensing and Regulation as the regulator.
Texas has long opposed legal wagering
But as far as Patrick is concerned, the details don’t matter because sports betting won’t “see the light of day in this session.”
While Patrick’s comments were surprisingly earnest and direct, they shouldn’t come as a surprise in a state that where legal gambling is limited to a traditional lottery, parimutuel wagering, and three tribal casinos, and where governors have traditionally opposed any expansion.
Texas is surrounded by states that offer some form of gambling — both Louisiana and Oklahoma have Las Vegas-style casinos, including several close to the Texas border while Arkansas offers live, legal sports betting local at horse racetracks. Louisiana voters approved retail sports betting in most parishes in November 2020, and lawmakers and regulators there are in the process of making it so.
There is an 18-13 Republican majority in the Texas Senate, and Patrick says sports betting can’t get the votes, and that Republican voters are generally opposed to gambling expansions. Sports betting, however, has been a bi-partisan issue across the country, and two of the three states that legalized sports betting via referendum last November were red states — Louisiana and South Dakota. Maryland, a Democratic stronghold, was the other state where voters legalized.