Sports betting in Texas cleared a historic hurdle Thursday, but the effort still faces a much taller hurdle.
Lawmakers in the Texas House passed House Joint Resolution 102, which would legalize online sports betting in Texas through a constitutional amendment, and its enabling legislation, House Bill 1942.
It is the first time either chamber in the Texas Legislature has passed a sports betting measure. The legislation moves to the Senate, where many believe the bills face inevitable failure.
HJR 102 passed, 101-42. Because it calls for amending the Texas Constitution, the bill needed 100 votes – two-thirds of the House – to advance. HB 1942 passed, 82-51. HJR 102’s quest for 100 votes did not come without some theatrics.
Texas sports betting drama
Rep. Jeff Leach closed his argument for Texas sports betting Thursday by reminding lawmakers that they should trust their constituents to decide whether sports betting should be legal. Leach, a Republican from Plano, reminded lawmakers that an estimated 1 million Texans are already placing bets illegally and could be considered criminals.
“This bill makes our unsafe and illegal market legal and safe,” Leach said. “It regulates it. It makes it safer.”
Moments later, lawmakers appeared to pass HJR 102, 100-42, and the chamber erupted in approval. A subsequent verification vote, however, determined Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was not on the floor for the vote, and his “yes” vote was stricken. That left the resolution a vote shy of the 100-vote threshold.
However, two lawmakers’ “no” votes were changed to “yes” votes after they cited voting machine malfunctions. With the vote switches, HJR 102 got to its final count of 101-42.
Sports betting bill specifics
HB 1942, which lays out how sports betting would work in the state should voters get a chance to approve it, passed the House easily Thursday. After being amended Wednesday, the bill provides sports betting licenses for the following Texas sports franchises or facilities:
- Dallas Cowboys;
- Houston Texans;
- San Antonio Spurs;
- Dallas Mavericks;
- Houston Rockets;
- Texas Rangers;
- Houston Astros;
- Dallas Stars;
- Austin FC;
- FC Dallas;
- Houston Dynamo;
- Dallas Wings;
- PGA Tour;
- Lone Star Park;
- Sam Houston Race Park;
- Texas Motor Speedway/NASCAR
The bill was also amended Wednesday to tax operators at a 15% rate instead of 10%. Ninety-eight percent of the tax revenue would be directed to property tax relief.
Is this the end?
The sports betting effort now makes its way to the Texas Senate. That likely spells doom for HJR 102 and HB 1942.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has repeatedly suggested the Senate does not have enough votes to carry the measures, particularly Republican votes.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst filed Senate Joint Resolution 39 and Senate Bill 715 as companion legislation to Leach’s House legislation. Kolkhorst’s bills have collected dust in the State Affairs Committee without a hearing.