Texas Sports Betting 2023 Legislative Preview

Written By Matthew Kredell on January 10, 2023 - Last Updated on January 11, 2023
online texas sports betting amendment proposal

Those waiting for the Texas legislature to take up sports betting legislation for the first time in two years will have to wait a little bit longer.

Texas sports betting language for the 2023 session likely won’t be out until mid-to-late February. The Sports Betting Alliance is still hammering out the language, making sure all members of the alliance and bill authors are on board with the details.

But even though the Texas legislature’s 2023 session starts today, bills don’t make any progress in the first two months. January is more of an introductory period for the large freshman class with ceremonial efforts and the adoption of chamber rules. In February, leadership announces committees and committee chairs.

March 10 is the first day bills can be heard, giving the Sports Betting Alliance plenty of time to perfect the bill for this session.

“We have legislation in the works,” Sports Betting Alliance spokesperson Cara Gustafson told PlayUSA. “It’s similar to what we did in 2021. But, of course, so many other states have legalized it since 2021, so we’ve seen more of what works and doesn’t work in other states.”

What happened in the 2021 session regarding Texas sports betting

The Texas legislature only meets in odd years. For that reason, sports betting made its last appearance in Austin in 2021.

Backed by Texas sports teams and national sportsbook operators, the Sports Betting Alliance formed to push for sports wagering legislation.

The Alliance includes:

  • BetMGM
  • DraftKings
  • FanDuel
  • Barstool
  • Fanatics
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Houston Texans
  • Houston Astros
  • Texas Rangers
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Dallas Stars
  • FC Dallas
  • Houston Dash
  • Houston Dynamo FC
  • Austin FC
  • Texas Motor Speedway
  • PGA Tour

Rep. Dan Huberty and Sen. Juan Hinojosa introduced the legislation crafted by the Sports Betting Alliance along with a joint resolution to put legalizing sports wagering in front of Texas voters.

Before the bill even came out, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pulled back the reins, saying it “wouldn’t see the light of day” in the Senate that session.

The House did hold a hearing in which Texas Rangers Neil Leibman said Texas sports teams would be at a competitive disadvantage without sports betting. But the bill didn’t advance.

“It was a crazy session in 2021 with the legislature dealing with once-in-a-decade redistricting and the winter storm,” Gustafson said. “We really had a lot of conversations with lawmakers in 2022 and I think we’re going into this session light years ahead of where we were in 2021. People know who the Sports Betting Alliance is now. They’re more familiar with our efforts and mobile sports betting.”

Momentum for Texas sports betting entering 2023

Now that the Sports Betting Alliance has established itself and its mission in Texas, it’s bringing in a big gun.

Former Gov. Rick Perry joined the Alliance as a spokesperson. Leading the state from 2000 to 2015, Perry was the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He also served as US Secretary of Energy in the Trump Administration.

In his pre-existing relationships with Patrick and many Texas lawmakers, Perry brings new esteem to the effort.

“We were thrilled to have Rick Perry join as spokesperson,” Gustafson said. “I’ve been the spokesperson since 2021, but I’m not Gov. Rick Perry. With him on our side, more people are paying attention.”

Gustafson is optimistic that if Patrick lets sports betting see the light of day in the Senate this session, a bill will pass.

“I think we have more momentum than we’ve ever had. We do believe that the voting threshold is there. When we came out in 2021, two dozen states had legalized sports betting. Now it’s up to 35. So I think that helps. It’s not like the momentum for sports betting has stalled out nationally. It has grown and grown. I think it’s more popular and more accepted.”

Changes in Texas sports betting bill for 2023

The 2021 bill authorized retail and online sports wagering for major horse racetracks. Additionally, professional sports teams from Major League Baseball, the NBANHLNFL, and Major League Soccer also would have been eligible for licenses. The proposal included retail-only for minor league stadiums and other venues.

Each pro sports team and racetrack could have had one online presence. Online sports betting applicants would have paid $500,000 for a three-year license and a 10% annual tax.

Gustafson said the coming bill will cut out the retail aspect, focusing solely on online sports betting.

“Through conversations with Alliance members and lawmakers, and seeing what works and doesn’t work in other states, we decided to stick with mobile only,” Gustafson said. “Maybe one day there could be retail, but we felt it’s a better first step to focus on mobile.”

Will Texas sports owners throw their full weight around?

Texas professional sports teams all signed up for the Sports Betting Alliance. They didn’t go all out for legalization in 2021, however.

Texas has some very influential team owners, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban and Houston Rockets’ Tilman Fertitta. None of them showed up at the hearing or spent time in the state capitol asking for sports betting legalization in 2021.

Perhaps that changes in 2023. That might make a difference in getting a bill across the finish line.

“What other time does every single major sports team in Texas have the same goal?” Gustafson said. “Almost never, I feel.”

How will casino push affect Texas sports betting?

The Sands Corp. is making a big push for legalizing brick-and-mortar casinos in the Lone Star State. The Las Vegas Sands PAC has donated millions to Texas politicians, including $225,000 to Patrick and $300,000 to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Sands Corp. owner Miriam Adelson gave Abbott another $1 million during the last election cycle.

Cuban has expressed interest in partnering with the Sands Corp. to build a resort casino around the Mavericks’ next arena.

In a state that has been so conservative on gambling, legalizing sports betting seems like the easier push. But it’s possible that building momentum for casinos helps take sports betting to the finish line.

Sen. Carol Alvarado has again pre-filed a bill to put in front of voters the idea of legalizing casino gaming and sports betting.

Gustafson said the Sports Betting Alliance is neutral on casino gaming. The group would be fine with both issues passing together but, for now, believes sports betting has a better chance as a standalone issue.

Will Lt. Gov Patrick really support Texas sports betting?

Sports betting’s chances in Texas this year really come down to two people, Patrick and Abbott.

Both have opposed gambling expansions in the past. There are rumblings that they may be more open to sports betting this session, but it’s all conjecture at this point.

Abbott seemed more open to gambling expansion on the campaign trail. That was when he was up against an opponent who spoke for expanding gambling, though. It remains to be seen how he would react if bills make a serious run.

That depends on Patrick, who controls the Senate. Some industry sources told Legal Sports Report that Patrick would support online sports betting but not retail. That could explain the Sports Betting Alliance’s move to mobile-only.

But Patrick told Austin station KXAN about the Senate’s appetite for new gambling laws: “A lot of talk out there, but I don’t see any movement on it.”

“We have had conversations with lawmakers in both chambers and both aisles, and that does include leadership,” Gustafson said. “At end of day, Lt. Gov. Patrick is going to decide what happens in Senate, what bills are going to have a shot and what bills don’t. He knows who we are, he knows our efforts, and obviously we hope he will allow us to work the process and get the bill heard, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Texas sports betting legalization still a challenge

Everyone is looking for reasons Texas could legalize sports betting this session. Chances are better than they were in 2021 but it will be a difficult climb to get to the finish line.

Huberty did not seek re-election so the Sports Betting Alliance will need to find a new bill champion.

Then there are only two-and-a-half months to get sports betting legislation through opposition once the legislature gets into gear. The Texas legislative session ends on May 29.

Passing constitutional amendments requires a two-thirds vote from each chamber, a high bar in a conservative Southern state.

If Texas fails to legalize sports betting this year, Texans will have to wait until 2025. The Texas legislature only meets in odd years. By that time, it figures that almost all of the rest of the country will have a legal sports betting option.

Gustafson says a main argument when approaching lawmakers reluctant to support gambling is that they don’t have to make that decision themselves.

By passing legislation, all they are doing is putting a ballot measure in front of voters to let their constituents decide if they want sports betting legalized.

“We want this to go to Texas voters, and that’s our big ask,” Gustafson said. “At the end of the day, that’s our overarching message. We’re just asking for that chance to let the voters decide.”

Photo by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew's reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. After graduating from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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