Advocates Pressing For Texas Sports Betting In 2023

Written By Derek Helling on November 1, 2022
Constitutional amendment texas sports betting lobbying

While many issues could dominate the calendar for legislators in the state during their next session, one group is adamant that Texas sports betting will be among them. A spokesperson for the Texas Sports Betting Alliance has shared that the organization has been active in the buildup to 2023.

Many questions remain about the success of such a measure, including whether it will even surface in Austin. There are powerful interests on both sides of the issue and this month’s elections could impact the situation.

Conversations around Texas sports betting are happening

KPRC 2 in Houston shared comments from the Texas Sports Betting Alliance’s Cara Gustafson. Gustafson noted that the organization, comprised of professional sports franchises and gambling companies among others, hasn’t been dormant since the 2021 legislative session ended.

“We’ve been having great ongoing conversations in both chambers on both sides of the aisle. Again, really educating them on what the illegal market is happening here in Texas,” Gustafson stated.

Gustafson pointed out the Alliance’s goal is to get a potential constitutional amendment authorizing gambling on sporting events in Texas onto a statewide ballot. In 2021, all efforts to achieve the same end fell short.

In Texas, the legislature only holds regular sessions in odd-numbered years. Additionally, the state’s lieutenant governor also serves as the president of the Senate. Current Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was staunchly opposed to gambling expansion and for that reason, bills never saw a vote in that chamber.

It’s unclear right now whether there is any reason to believe 2023 will be any different.

Great ongoing conversations might not be enough

An August poll from The Texas Politics Project shows Patrick with a seven-point lead over Democrat challenger Mike Collier. Should Patrick win re-election, he could again present a significant obstacle for proponents like the Alliance to overcome.

There’s no other way of amending the constitution in Texas and any gambling expansion in the state must come via that route. Thus, Patrick would essentially hold all the cards again. If he won’t allow a bill to come up for a vote, it matters little how much the rest of the Senate supports them.

Patrick could feel pressure from Texas Senators, however, and Gov. Greg Abbott (should he win re-election as well, that is). Abbott supported the 2021 amendment proposal and has received several campaign donations from people involved in the gambling industry.

Another question is whether sports betting will be the only form of gambling expansion that comes up for debate in 2023.

Brick-and-mortar commercial casinos could see a simultaneous push

Some of the proposals in 2021 represented more of an omnibus gambling expansion. Not only did they ask the state’s voters to authorize sportsbooks but physical, non-tribal casinos in Texas as well.

For some of Abbott’s donors, casinos are actually the bigger issue as compared to sports betting. Right now, it’s too early to tell whether legislators will try to package the two ambitions. They could push for them separately in 2023 instead.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Leaders in Austin who oppose gambling expansion might see a proposal to simultaneously authorize both forms of gaming as too broad of a change.

At the same time, it could be a more efficient way to reach what might be an inevitable end.

Legislators advocating for these changes will likely read the room to determine the best approach before filing bills. Thus, early activity in the session will foreshadow exactly what the debates in the body will consist of.

What’s certain is that groups like the Texas Sports Betting Alliance won’t let Texas legislators simply gloss over the issue of sports betting legalization in 2023. At the very least, legislators will have to answer questions about why there is no movement toward that end.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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