For a state that has the world’s most famous poker game named after it as well as a pro football team called the “Gamblers,” Texas remains about as inhospitable an environment for legalizing gambling, including Texas sports betting, as there is in America.
From a gambling perspective, the Lone Star State is a jumble of paradoxes.
For decades, the world poker championship has been decided with the poker variant known as Texas Hold’em. The old-time sharps of card-playing lore were known collectively as Texas Road Gamblers led by the appropriately nicknamed Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson. Inspired by a culture of risk-takers settlers, cattle ranchers and oil-drilling wildcatters — the highest-scoring team of the old USFL was the colorful Houston Gamblers (who, as it turns out, will be reborn in the league’s reincarnation in mid-April).
At the grassroots level, it’s hardly a secret that Texans love to gamble.
The “hometown” casino of the greater Dallas area is WinStar World just north of the Red River in Oklahoma. In the Houston area, folks travel east to Louisiana casinos. West Texans head to New Mexico.
Propelled by Dallas-area money, the WinStar, operated by the Chickasaw Nation, is not just big — it is actually the biggest casino in the world at 600,000 square feet, which is more than four times the size of Caesars Palace’s casino space. WinStar is the official casino of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys complete with the team logo on the craps tables.
At the same time, Texas is culturally conservative and that extends to influential social values organizations and politicians, such as Republican Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, who are adamantly opposed to gambling, both the casino variety and online.
Currently, the major gambling available in Texas are the state lottery and horse racing. There is some small Native American casino gambling available and poker card rooms are operating in parts of the state — although, in the greater Dallas area, there has been a recent crackdown on some poker facilities.
No Large-Scale Gambling in Texas
However, large-scale gambling, meaning resort-style regional casinos and statewide sports wagering, are strictly prohibited.
Complicating the political process of legalizing gambling in the state is that the legislature meets only every other year, in odd years, to even address legislation related to gambling. Additionally, voters would likely also have a say via a referendum.
One legislator, state Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, has tried to introduce gambling legislation since 2009. In Texas, the legislature has to first put a gambling question on the ballot because expanding gambling requires a change in the state’s constitution — and that means a referendum.
Efforts by Alvarado and other legislators have failed to get any traction, even though legalizing gambling does have some bipartisan support.
Not to be dismissed, though, Patrick is running for another term and is the prohibitive front-runner on the GOP side.
Gambling Industry Wants Texas
With Texas the second-largest state by population, the gambling industry has certainly made its sentiments known, most notably the Las Vegas Sands Co.
Sheldon Adelson, the late billionaire patriarch of Las Vegas Sands who died in early 2021, coveted Texas as a casino market and to advance that ambition, LVS hired a slew of lobbyists in the state last year. In 2022, LVS sold its Las Vegas assets to concentrate on its Asian holdings. But Adelson’s widow, Miriam, is funding a pro-casino PAC in Texas with more than $2 million. The PAC money is going to office seekers.
Still another PAC, this one focused on advancing legalized sports gambling, is the Sports Betting Alliance. That group counts as allies most of the state’s pro sports teams, including the Cowboys, Houston Texans, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Texas Rangers and others, along with sports betting operators, FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM.
A school of thought is that between the two gambling legalization efforts — casinos and sports betting — the sports wagering aspect might wind up being more palatable to the state’s conservative social values legislators and their constituencies because of Texas’ well-known passion for sports.
Big 3 Still on Sports Betting Sideline
Looking at the U.S. gambling landscape from 30,000 feet, although more than 30 jurisdictions have adopted sports wagering, there are three remaining states that can move the needle financially for the sports wagering industry: California, Texas and Florida. Those are America’s three largest states by population and each has its unique set of impediments to legalizing sports betting.
Given the complexities each state presents, it seems highly unlikely that any of them will have statewide legalized sports betting in, say, the next two years. In the case of Texas, there’s the added complication that whenever a legislative session ends without definitive action, the question has to wait another two years.
So, reducing the question to sports betting terms, the earliest calendar Over-Under on Texas launching regulated sports gambling, would be the start of the 2025 NFL season. And that’s only if everything goes absolutely perfectly for those rooting for it.