On Wednesday, online sports betting and casino legislation both received affirmative votes during their second readings on the House floor.
Both will now receive a third reading and final vote on either Thursday or Friday before advancing to the Senate.
House Joint Resolution 102, which would legalize online sports betting via constitutional amendment, along with its enabling legislation, House Bill 1942, received majority approval. HJR 102 passed on a 97-42 vote, three votes shy of the 100 it will need upon its third reading to advance as a constitutional amendment. HB 1942, requiring only a simple majority shot past that mark with its 84-52 vote in support.
House Joint Resolution 155, which would legalize resort casinos in major Texas metropolitan areas via constitutional amendment, received a 92-51 majority approval. That result came eight votes shy of the two-thirds majority it will need in its third reading to advance. House Bill 2843, the enabling legislation to HJR 155 had its second reading delayed a day.
Third readings must take place before a Friday crossover deadline for all bills originating in the House.
Casino legislation generated a steady stream of opposition
Of the two gambling positions on the Wednesday calendar, Rep. Charlie Geren’s HJR 155, legalizing Texas casinos, generated lengthier debate. Eight total amendments were proposed, six of which were adopted, including one amended amendment. The adopted amendments addressed the following:
- Amendment one: allocates money for Texas teacher salaries;
- Amendment four: adds Brownsville/Harlingen to potential casino regions;
- Amendment five: adds Central Texas as a potential casino region;
- Amendment six: allows for a racetrack license in Jefferson County;
- Amendment seven: restricts mainland China, Russia, North Korea and Iran from doing business in Texas owing to their Communist ties;
- Amendment eight: amends amendment seven by limiting restrictions on China to only mainland China and not Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Representatives Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, and Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, orchestrated the seventh amendment attempting to carve the Las Vegas Sands Corporation out of Texas casinos due to their business holdings in Macau, officially called the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Schaefer decried the human and civil rights violations occurring in the listed communist countries and, through some theatrical prodding from Shaheen, reminded the floor that Vegas Sands had direct ties to the People’s Republic of China through their casino holdings in Macau.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s sponsor, ultimately amended Schaefer’s amendment to remove Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan from the list of disallowed communist countries.
Shaheen renewed his well-established fight against gambling expansion in Texas through appeals to domestic spousal abuse and child sex trafficking, which he claimed “would go vertical” in sheer number of cases if the bill is passed.
“A woman married to a problem gambler,” Shaheen said, “is 10 times more likely to go to the ER.”
Rep. Eddie Morales, D-Eagle Pass, whose amendment designating space for a casino for the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas within 300 miles of their tribal lands was defeated, opposed the bill because it “would undermine the economic advantages that the Kickapoo have benefitted from.”
Morales brought home the importance of considering the Kickapoo, who had lived in Texas “since before it was Texas,” and expressed the need to sustain their community.
“If we can’t take care of our own,” Morales said, “why are we putting these out of state interests above our most vulnerable members.”
Few proponents spoke on the bill. Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, provided the most equanimous support in reminding the House that “this is an opportunity to allow our citizens to vote for something they said they want, and we’ll all respect the outcome.”
HJR 155 received the 92-51 majority vote with two abstentions – Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston, and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.
The bill will need to pick up eight votes on its third reading to advance to the Senate. Phelan, a known proponent of gambling expansion, will likely be one when he places his final vote on HJR 155.
Rep. Jeff Leach focuses on illegal gambling market
In a much briefer round of debate, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, introduced Texas online sports betting legislation by focusing on the illegal gambling market while downplaying the position that sports betting would generate revenue for the state.
Three amendments were proposed, two of which were adopted. They addressed:
- Amendment 1: adds a sports betting permit for NASCAR at the TEXAS Motor Speedway. Devotes revenue to property tax reduction, and for teacher salaries;
- Amendment 3: raises the sports betting tax from 10% to 15%.
Shaheen continued his attack on legal gambling with more emotional appeals, focusing on “the risks for children who will be gambling online.”
“$1.9 billion was spent on [gambling] marketing last year,” he said. “I can promise you they will target your children.”
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, gave an impassioned speech in favor of the bill on the grounds of personal liberty.
“Are we going to tell Texans what to do with the dollar in their pocket when they can already gamble on stocks?” Canales asked.
This generated a hearty response from the floor.
Without the need to develop brick-and-mortar spaces for online sports betting, much of the oppositional arguments around “introducing” vices into the state disappeared. Leach closed the debate with the reminder that the state is “criminalizing millions of Texans” for gambling illegally, and HJR 102 aims to end that and squash out the illegal market that already puts millions of Texans at risk.
With a 97-44 vote, HJR 102 sits three votes shy of advancement to the upper chamber, and one of those would come from Phelan, a proponent who, by design, did not vote Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s session, Leach said he was “hopeful” the bill would reach the 100-vote threshold needed to advance.
Despite long odds in the Senate, House vote sends a strong message
Should either or both bills advance on final reading, their outlook in the Senate looks grim. House members intimated as much in their testimony Wednesday. Nonetheless, the argument that Texas citizens have shown interest in gambling expansion has taken hold.
While House passage may not sway Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate that Patrick claims “doesn’t have the votes” to pass gambling expansion, it does send a message, namely, that the lower chamber is willing to empower the citizenry to decide on an issue that has received clear focus in two consecutive legislative cycles.