As we’ve been following the legalization of sports betting around the country, there have been many interesting legislative logjams and problems with rival Indian tribes, but Texas’s attempt to pass sports betting is unique. A Texas sports betting bill can’t pass in 2022 because the state legislature doesn’t meet in 2022.
In Texas, the legislature is in session only in odd-numbered years. And only for 140 days. That’s the way it was written up in the Texas Constitution ... in 1876.
So with a little less than 10 months to go until the legislature is back in session, the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, comprised of sportsbooks and professional sports teams, is trying to lay the groundwork with legislators to get a sports betting bill on the agenda next January and through all necessary committees before everyone packs up and goes home in late spring. If no bill is passed by then, it’s see y’all in 2025 — unless the governor calls the Legislature back for a special session.
If a bill is passed, then it will need the signature of the governor, and a measure will go on the ballot in November to amend the state constitution to allow for sports betting. So, yes, it is possible, that the Texas state legislature will craft and pass a lengthy, legalese bill setting up the rules for sports betting in the state, and then voters will nix the whole idea.
But that’s highly unlikely. This is Texas, with numerous professional teams, an endless supply of quality college teams and where high school football might be more popular than all of them. Texans love their sports and there’s no way the legislature is going to let gambling dollars continue to go to Louisiana, Oklahoma or offshore.
Sports Betting ‘A Non-Partisan Issue’
The Texas Sports Betting Alliance was started in late 2020 with a formal announcement in early 2021. According to spokeswoman Cara Gustafson, it quickly got a bill into the House sponsored by Republican Dan Huberty, and a bill into the Senate sponsored by Democrat Juan Hinojosa. Gustafson calls sports betting “a non-partisan issue.”
The bill did get a committee hearing, but Texas was in the middle of COVID-19 and power grid issues at the time, so the sports betting push stalled.
But now it’s back and during the off year, the Sports Betting Alliance is trying to keep it front and center. Gustafson said the alliance visited the capitol last week and some legislators seemed surprised to see officials from the group. “But the thing is,” she said, "we don't want them to forget about us. We've got new literature. We want to make sure that they’re all on board. We're very much about having a presence in the capitol, even if it's not in session.”
Education is Key
And that presence is largely about education. Not just the money that might flow to education if Huberty gets his way on the sports betting bill, but educating the legislators about the entire industry.
“We're really having good conversations about where people are concerned,” Gustafson says. “We talk about protecting children and all the safety precautions that go into the apps. There are questions and concerns from both sides of the aisle, but we work with both sides to make sure everyone's fully educated on what the bill does.”
Also, although there are tribal concerns in Texas, they are not yet as intrusive as in some other states. There are only three tribal casinos in the entire massive Lone Star State. The tribes “weren't explicitly written into the bill,” Gustafson says, “but we are having conversations with them. With a state as big as Texas, there are so many people with whom we need to have these conversations.”
Although the bill is a year away from having hard-and-fast numbers in it, even at Texas’ traditional low tax rate, Gustafson says estimates show that sports betting in Texas could bring in as much as $150 million in revenue in the first two years and upwards of $170 million per year after that.
“That's what our conversations with lawmakers have really been trying to hone in on,” Gustafson says. “It's not even necessarily how much money it would generate even though that is a lot, but it's brand new money that we don't have already and that we're just missing out on.”