Texas Lawmaker ‘Very Confident’ About Texas Sports Betting Passage In House

Written By Matthew Kredell on March 16, 2023 - Last Updated on March 17, 2023
jim leach texas sports betting interview

When Rep. Jeff Leach decided to take over sponsorship of Texas sports betting legislation, he took on a Texas-sized challenge. But he seems up to the task.

In his first extensive interview on Texas sports betting since filing HB 1942/HJR 102, Leach told PlayUSA that he filed the legislative package with the intention of getting it passed this session.

“Based on the feedback I’m getting from my fellow lawmakers on the House side, citizens and stakeholders, I feel very confident,” Leach said. “The feedback I’m getting from legislators is very positive, and I’m talking to a lot of them.”

Passing any law to legalize a form of gambling is difficult in Texas, especially when it requires amending the state constitution. That means getting a two-thirds approval vote from his colleagues.

But Leach isn’t deterred. He pointed out that he’s already successfully pushed two constitutional amendments in his five terms in office.

“I know how to count votes and I know what’s necessary to build coalitions,” Leach said. “I’m not just interested in filing a bill. I’m interested in passing a bill.”

Why Leach took up Texas sports betting sponsorship

The last Texas House sponsor for sports betting legislation, Rep. Dan Huberty, didn’t seek re-election.

Leach said he decided to take over as Texas sports betting sponsor because he believes Texans deserve the freedom to legally place sports wagers.

Sports betting is explicitly illegal in Texas, as are all types of gambling other than the state lottery and pari-mutuel betting on horse races. Leach sees that as a problem when many Texans are betting on sports anyway.

“Hundreds of thousands of Texans already are betting on sports insecurely, unsafely, putting their data and money at risk. And they’re committing a crime under Texas law. It’s time for us to decriminalize this and allow these folks to come out of the shadows and do it in a safe, regulated market. We value freedom and liberty in this state and this is the perfect opportunity for us to prove it.”

What’s different this year

In 2021, Huberty did get Texas sports betting a hearing in a House committee. But it never got serious consideration in either chamber despite the backing of the Texas Sports Betting Alliance made up of Texas professional sports teams and national sportsbook operators.

Leach provided five reasons he thinks Texas sports betting legislation stands a better chance this year:

  • The issue isn’t new anymore. There’s been two years of discussions and educating of Texas legislators.
  • There’s more involvement from influential Texas professional sports teams owners.
  • Sen. Lois Kolkhorst provides a strong Republican sponsor in the Senate.
  • They removed a retail component that didn’t sit well with some Texas lawmakers who oppose gambling expansion.
  • Former Gov. Rick Perry joined the effort as a spokesperson for the Sports Betting Alliance.

Leach explained:

“I think certainly the conversation has matured. The bill is different from last session in that there’s no brick-and-mortar component. We got a leading Republican Senate author. And we’ve had two years to have discussions with legislators across the state from both parties and all regions. I just think the issue feels more ripe now.”

Further explanation of Texas sports betting changes

The addition of Kolkhorst can’t be understated. Last time, the Texas Sports Betting Alliance couldn’t get a Republican Senator to carry the bill. Sen. Chuy Hinojosa took up the cause then and is a joint-author to provide bipartisan support this year.

But Kolkhorst has been in the Texas legislature for more than 20 years and is thought to be a close ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Convincing Patrick to allow sports betting is key to passage.

“We’ve got a great Senate author in Sen. Kolkhorst, who is a leader in the Senate,” Leach said. “I’m proud to partner with her. Getting 100 votes in the House and two-thirds of the Senate is never an easy task. We’re going through the House first and, if I can get it through the House, I feel very confident Lois can get it through the Senate.”

Perry is another addition close to Patrick. Patrick even urged Perry to make another run at governor last year.

Leach said that some lawmakers were concerned about having a retail component in a state that doesn’t have brick-and-mortar casinos.

“Some legislators are very concerned about the brick-and-mortar and retail component,” Leach said. “We made those changes because we believe it strongly helps final passage of the bill.”

What’s next for Texas sports betting

Texas sports betting legislation will start in the House where it has a better chance of passage. The first hearing will be Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.

Texas sports owners could make a big splash at the hearing. Owners who submitted statements for the Sports Betting Alliance press release introducing the bills included Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Cal McNair of the Houston Texans, Tilman Fertitta of the Houston Rockets, Jim Crane of the Houston Astros and Ray Davis of the Texas Rangers. Last time, no owners spoke at the hearing.

“Our sports owners are active, they’re engaged and they’re making a difference,” Leach said. “I expect and anticipate they will be actively involved at all stages. Who specifically comes to testify and makes personal appearances at the Capitol to get this passed, I don’t know.”

Leach said he doesn’t know where House Speaker Dade Phelan stands on the bill. Leach doesn’t see him as a obstacle for the bill the way Patrick might be in the Senate.

“I know the Speaker well enough and consider myself to be part of the House leadership team,” Leach said. “I know that if the majority of the House wants to bring this to a vote, he won’t stand in the way.”

A University of Houston poll showed that 75% of Texans support legalizing sports betting.

“I do believe Texans should be allowed the opportunity to vote on this,” Leach said. “And I’m confident that they would resoundingly support it.”

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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