In a dramatic vote Thursday afternoon, the Texas House of Representatives approved a resolution calling for voters to decide whether sports betting should be legalized in the state.
In the end, HJR 102 received 101 yes votes in the 150-member panel.
That was just enough to secure the two-thirds majority needed to advance the Texas sports betting measure to the Senate, where the odds of passage are long.
Initially, the resolution sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Leach appeared to clear with just 100 votes, but House Speaker Dade Phalen then called for a verification vote to ensure the lawmakers voted from the floor. As the members were called, state Rep. Oscar Longoria, who was counted as a yes vote, was not on the floor. While losing his vote would have defeated the measure, two other lawmakers said the voting machines at the desk malfunctioned, causing them to show as no votes. They were allowed to change to yes, leading to cheers from supporters in the chamber.
Supporters Find Necessary Votes Thursday
In his final pitch to his colleagues, Leach said voting for the resolution would be for freedom and liberty.
“We trust the people of Texas, and this joint resolution is the perfect opportunity for us to prove that to them,” he said.
Thursday’s vote came after the measure received 97 yes votes on the House floor Wednesday. Several lawmakers, though, did not participate in that, indicating Leach and supporters still had a chance to succeed.
If the Senate approves the measure, Texas voters would vote on whether to legalize sports betting in the November election.
Leach said more than a million Texans, including some lawmakers, are placing more than 2 billion bets through illegal or unregulated operators each year, with that handle approaching $8 billion.
Attempts to legalize gaming have faced stiff opposition in the Texas Legislature, mainly from conservative lawmakers claiming that betting is immoral.
However, one lawmaker urged his colleagues Thursday to vote against the measure to voice their opposition to how sports teams treat America.
State Rep. Matt Shaheen recalled that sports helped unify the country after the 9/11 attacks more than two decades ago. However, he said the COVID-19 pandemic showed how times had changed.
“There’s division,” he said. “We actually have some teams that won’t even play our national anthem. Think of how the veterans feel, how the moms and dads of folks that have lost their loved ones to war. When we needed our sports teams, they weren’t there for us. So, I would ask you to take that into consideration.”
Pro Teams Would Control Online Betting
Texas sports betting apps licenses would be tethered to the state’s professional sports teams. That includes the Dallas Wings, the state’s WNBA franchise. Only online wagering would be allowed.
Revenues would be taxed at 10%, with those funds providing property tax relief. Leach estimated that would generate almost $1 billion in taxes annually.
After the vote on the resolution, a bill sponsored by Leach that included codifying language for the constitutional amendment passed 82-51. That bill only needed a simple majority.
The Sports Betting Alliance praised the votes by the House.
“For the first time ever, the Texas House considered and passed a bill to legalize sports betting,” President Jeremy Kudon said in a statement. “This vote leaves no room for doubt — legalizing sports betting is popular in the Lone Star State. Texans want and deserve the freedom to safely and legally bet on their favorite teams, and they are one chamber away from getting it.”
While the sports betting measure passed, a vote on a referendum on casino gaming was pushed back twice Thursday as supporters sought to get 100 votes on it. That measure, HJR 155, received just 92 yes votes Wednesday, with enough no votes to keep it from succeeding. The bill did not include Texas online casinos.