Texans hoping for a legal and regulated option to participate in sports betting will have to wait at least another two years. The Texas regular legislative session officially ended Monday without final sports betting passage.
But the effort to legalize sports betting in Texas made great progress in 2023.
A resolution to give state voters the opportunity to vote on amending the state constitution to legalize sports betting passed the House with support of more than two-thirds of lawmakers.
Before it even reached the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doused hopes by Tweeting that the resolution would not be referred.
The session concluded Monday with no movement by sports betting legislation in the Senate.
“By no means do we consider this a loss,” Texas Sports Betting Alliance spokesperson Cara Gufstason told PlayUSA. “We consider it a huge win. We definitely made a lot of progress. I think all that momentum can carry over into 2025 and maybe the third time will be a charm.”
High hopes but minimal expectations
The Texas Sports Betting Alliance formed and first introduced legislation in 2021. The alliance brought together all major professional Texas sports teams and sportsbook operators to push for legalizing mobile sports betting.
A House committee held a hearing on the legislation that year. But there was never really any momentum to pass the bill and resolution.
In the interim, the alliance upgraded lead sponsors to two Republican party leaders and nabbed a big name to aid in the fight.
The Texas Sports Betting Alliance made a splash before this session by announcing that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the effort as a spokesman.
That added some gravitas to the push, as Perry has established relationships with many key Texas lawmakers, including Patrick.
As the session ended, Perry said in a statement through the alliance:
“We are thankful for and encouraged by the months of thoughtful policy discussions on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers, this legislative session to bring a legal mobile sports betting market to Texans. Because of the tireless work of our bill authors, Rep. Jeff Leach and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Texas made history when mobile sports betting legislation was overwhelmingly approved in a House vote of 101-42.”
House passage draws cheers
The last time a gaming bill got a successful vote in the House was to authorize the state lottery in 1991.
Putting a constitutional amendment in front of voters requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber. Getting a successful vote from two-thirds of members on a gaming issue takes a Herculean effort.
In March, Leach told PlayUSA he felt “very confident” about passing Texas sports betting in the House. It seemed like typical bill sponsor optimism at the time. But Leach proved up to the task.
“Consider that in 2021, we were happy even to get a committee hearing,” Gustafson said. “This time, we got a historic vote with a majority of Republicans in favor of a gaming initiative.”
Leach’s HJR 102 passed 101-42. The enabling bill HB 1942 then passed 82-51. There was audible excitement for sports wagering on the House floor. When the HJR got the needed votes, there were cheers in the room.
In the gallery watching the proceedings, Gustafson said she cried tears of joy when the vote total was announced.
“I was so thrilled because I knew we were making history in the Texas House. So much work went into this, countless hours spent talking with legislators, talking with staff, talking with the press, talking with Texas voters. To see that translate into the Texas House passing sports betting was huge and a really proud moment for all of us involved.”
Gustafson credited Leach and his staff for getting sports betting through the House.
“He was dedicated and excited from the jump,” Gustafson said. “We would have never gotten where we did without him.”
Disappointing lack of progress in Senate
House passage really was the goal for the Texas Sports Betting Alliance entering the session.
In the Texas Senate, everything goes through the lieutenant governor. And Patrick had regularly dismissed legalizing sports betting in comments since 2021.
Get the bill through the House and then hope that influential owners such as Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys could convince Patrick to take up the bill.
But Patrick said there was no chance before that could even happen. Patrick’s reasoning was that the House passed the bill with a Democratic majority. And the Senate only passes bills carried by the majority Republican party.
“That was tough to see because of how proud we were about the progress in the House,” Gustafson said. “I think everybody’s hope was that getting it out of one chamber and showing there is support for this would translate into the other chamber. But ultimately we knew it was always going to come down to the lieutenant governor.”
As a close ally of Patrick’s, it was hoped that Kolkhorst could influence the lieutenant governor.
While Leach took an active role in getting House passage, Kolkhorst never engaged on sports betting efforts in the Senate after putting her name on the bill. Besides providing a quote for the introductory press release, she never spoke on the issue.
“I wouldn’t look at her not speaking to the press about this issue as she didn’t care about it,” Gustafson said. “Had it gone over to the Senate and the lieutenant governor allowed us a hearing, it would have been different.”
Carrying Texas sports betting momentum into 2025
Texas has a unique legislative structure among states in that the legislature only meets in odd years.
So the Texas Sports Betting Alliance faces the challenge of keeping momentum from the House passage going until 2025.
“Texans deserve the chance to vote on legalizing sports betting and we will continue working to put this initiative on the ballot in 2025,” Perry said.
Efforts to legalize brick-and-mortar casinos also will return in 2025. Rep. Charlie Geren tried to get his resolution to put a casino constitutional amendment in front of voters through the House. It got 92 votes on second reading but Geren couldn’t find enough votes to push it to 100.
But heavyweights such as Las Vegas Sands, Fertitta Entertainment and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have been strong proponents for casinos. Those efforts could become more tied with sports betting if casinos can gain momentum in the interim.
Even though the legislature won’t be in session next year, legislators still hold committees and work on interim reports that will shape priorities for the 2025 session. Legislators will still be in their offices and meet with gaming lobbyists.
“Before this session it was, ‘Hey, remember us? This is how far we got in 2021,'” Gustafson said. “Now it’s going to be, ‘Hey, remember when we passed this in the House? We’re going to try to do it again.’”