The high hopes leading into the 2023 legislative session for a legal online sports betting market in Texas faded Monday when the session ended in Austin.
For many, the end of the session and the reality of the Texas biennial legislative cycle can be a gut punch when a bill dies. Texans must now look ahead to 2025 for the next opportunity to legalize Texas sports betting and, in all likelihood, 2026 for when they could place their first bets.
“Texans deserve to vote on legalizing sports betting, and we will continue working to put this initiative on the ballot in 2025,” Texas Sports Betting Alliance spokesperson and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.
That is not to say 2023 was a failure for the legislative effort to expand gambling, which included attempts to legalize retail casinos and sports betting through state constitutional amendments. Indeed, Texas saw a few firsts for gambling legislation this session.
Gambling bills receive first favorable committee report in the Texas House
The Texas House State Affairs Committee heard both retail casino and online sports betting legislation this session and, for the first time, advanced the measures.
Despite a lengthy committee hearing on both initiatives involving heavy opposition from social conservatives, tribal interests and community members, Rep. Jeff Leach’s online sports betting resolution and Rep. Charlie Geren’s retail casino resolution received favorable votes by the committee.
With several committee members openly opposed to legal gambling, the vote of support represented less an interest in passing the bill and more an evaluative statement about the importance of letting the full House decide on the matter.
In 2021, sports betting and casino legislation also landed in the House State Affairs Committee. Both received public hearings, but neither received a vote from the committee.
House sets a new precedent by advancing sports betting legislation
In a close vote that was not without theatrics, the Texas House advanced Leach’s online sports betting amendment.
With spirited debate for and against the bill, the Texas House advanced sports betting legislation for the first time in its history. Opposition mounted a strong charge, but, ultimately, the House decided to leave the decision up to the will of the people by passing the resolution.
This decision, perhaps, represented a point of divergence between the House, which decided to be less prescriptive with legal gambling, than the Senate, which has yet to let gambling legislation receive a public committee hearing.
Casino legislation did not have the votes to advance out of the House.
Sports betting was dead on arrival in Texas Senate
Almost as soon as the House passed sports betting bills, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, took to Twitter to burst the proponents’ bubble.
“I’ve said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP,” Patrick tweeted. “I polled members this week. Nothing changed. The [S]enate must focus on issues voters expect us to pass. We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support. HB1942 won’t be referred.”
A day later, Patrick issued a second tweet:
“Texas is a red state. Yet the House vote on sports betting was carried by a [Democratic] majority,” Patrick tweeted. “The Texas Senate doesn’t pass bills with GOP in the minority. The GOP majority guides our path. HJR102 also will not be referred. Can’t waste committee [and] floor time in the last days.”
Looking forward to 2025
Led by the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, 15 of Texas’s professional sports teams, along with the PGA Tour and the Texas Motor Speedway, all stood to gain a sports betting license under 2023 legislation.
Leach’s bill, written with the help of the SBA, gave significant leeway to sports teams to gain licenses, offered tax-deductible promotional credits to operators and proposed a tax rate below the national average. The House course-corrected on the side of the state by increasing the tax rate from 10% to 15% of adjusted gross income.
Legislators seemed to catch on to the need to confer as much revenue for the state as possible, so some of the provisions favoring the sportsbooks and pro teams may be constrained in the coming session.
The SBA’s next chance to get sports betting in front of Texas voters will be 2025 when the Texas Legislature’s next regular session is scheduled.
“It is disappointing that we didn’t clear the Senate, but we are extremely proud of passing the House,” SBA spokesperson Cara Gustafson told PlayTexas. “It was a historic vote and showed we have more support than ever, and we look forward to another chance to pass it next go around. Third time’s a charm, right?”
For the third attempt to succeed, sports betting supporters must convince Patrick to get out of the way in the Senate. For that to happen, Republican state senators will have to back sports betting and choose to let Texas residents decide whether to make it legal.
“We know that Texans want the freedom and liberty that our great state is known for to participate in sports betting legally and safely,” Perry said.
Texas stands to become the largest sports betting market in the country. A PlayTexas analysis shows legal sports betting in the state could generate upwards of $30 billion in bets.
• Content Manager Jason Schaumburg contributed to this report.