Early voting is live in Texas, and at the moment, turnout is down from the 2018 midterms. This is due to a number of factors, but the end result favors Republicans in Texas.
As we’ll discuss in this piece, party affiliation doesn’t directly influence the pathway to legal gambling. Instead, the viability of legalized gambling will depend on a few down-ballot races this election.
Three could prove pivotal.
Gambling, sports betting not issues in election
While Beto O’Rourke paid lip service to legal gambling early in his gubernatorial campaign, he has turned away from the issue. Instead, he’s focused on issues that clearly separate him from his opponent, Gov. Greg Abbott.
Indeed, hot-button issues like abortion, border safety and the economy have permeated all statewide races. As a result, it’s been radio silence in this election season on the topics of legal sports betting and casino gaming.
Despite that, three legislative races – two in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate – stand to influence legal gaming legislation in the upcoming legislative session.
We’ll profile those here, so Texans hoping to place their first legal bet on Texas soil in the near future know which races to watch.
Senate District 27
- Morgan LaMantia (D)
- Adam Hinojosa (R)
The November election doesn’t feature much competition for state Senate seats. SD27 is the exception.
The Rio Grande Valley has historically leaned Democrat at the polls but retained a distinct conservatism. Demographically, it’s mostly Hispanic, but unlike other predominantly-Hispanic regions in the country, oil prices and border security are key voting issues in the RGV.
President Donald Trump, who lost ground in all metro areas from 2016 to 2020, gained ground in the RGV. By contrast, President Joe Biden, who spent very little time in the region, would have hypothetically carried it (in its newly-redistricted form) by fewer than 7 points.
Eddie Lucio Jr. (D), who currently holds the office and has served the region for over 30 years, is retiring. He’s a Democrat by party affiliation but very moderate. On the Senate State Affairs Committee, which receives all gambling legislation, he represented one of the lone supportive voices for such legislation.
Lucio’s retirement creates a vacuum in the RGV
His retirement divests legal gambling of a key supporter. It also creates a vacuum in a region, where Republicans have plans to consolidate their influence and flip the seat.
PlayTexas has delved into the LaMantia family and their involvement in the gaming industry in Texas. Morgan LaMantia, lawyer and granddaughter of Joe LaMantia Jr., founder of the largest beer distribution company in South Texas, is the Democratic candidate.
She outspent every other Democratic candidate in the state in winning the primary and is currently outspending her opponent, Adam Hinojosa (R), by a wide margin.
Hinojosa faces an uphill spending battle, but in terms of voter turnout, it’s a toss up. LaMantia received 13,445 votes in her primary to Hinojosa’s 13,314. Republicans will push hard for high voter turnout as their means of stopping LaMantia’s powerful checkbook.
For Texans interested in legal gambling, LaMantia is clearly the candidate to watch here. She has received one of the largest endorsements of any candidate from the gambling-focused Sands PAC. Also, her family’s interests in the state’s horse racing industry put her firmly on the side of legal gambling. Who Texans in the region identify with most may decide this race.
Texas House of Representatives
House District 94
- Tony Tinderholt (R-incumbent)
- Dennis Sherrard (D)
HD94, which encompasses the majority of Arlington, has been represented by Tony Tinderholt since 2015.
In 2021, along with Dan Huberty (R-Houston), he sponsored HB2070/HJR97, which would have legalized sports betting in Texas. The legislation didn’t pass amid bigger concerns about the winter freeze that crashed the energy grid and the response to COVID-19.
Huberty plans to step down after this term, so time is running short on his support of sports betting legislation.
Tinderholt’s Democratic opponent, Dennis Sherrard, is a Dallas native and graduate of UT Arlington. His hometown roots give him a square footing in this campaign.
Sherrard has fundraised well, but he’s still brought in only one third of Tinderholt’s funds. Tinderholt also more than doubled Sherrard’s votes during their respective primaries.
Sherrard and Tinderholt share common interests around tax relief – particularly property taxes – but, to date, Sherrard hasn’t addressed the issue of legal gambling as a revenue stream for tax relief.
This makes Tinderholt the candidate to watch when it comes to putting forth sports betting legislation.
The DFW metroplex leans Democrat, which could boost Sherrard’s chances, but this race leans Republican.
House District 136
- John Bucy III (D-incumbent)
- Michelle Evans (R)
HD136 encompasses Round Rock and follows the same liberal trends as nearby Travis County to the south. John Bucy III, a small business owner and Austin native, has served the district since 2019, garnering respect and support from his peers in that short time.
Like Tinderholt, Bucy joint-filed HB2070/HJR97 sports betting legislation. Bucy’s platform would see tax revenue from sports betting used to fund public education services and Medicaid expansion.
Bucy’s challenger is Republican Michelle Evans from Spring, who has worked as a fitness coach, entrepreneur and communications director. Her platform includes public education reform and lower property taxes – issues which legal gambling could aid, although she has not mentioned legal gambling in her campaign.
HD 136 leans Democratic, but not by much. Both candidates have fundraised well, though Bucy has nearly tripled Evans’ funding, including a $3,000 donation from the aforementioned Texas Sands PAC.
Voter turnout favors Bucy by a small margin and suggests the race will provide some Election Day drama.
All things considered, Bucy is the candidate to watch in this race.
Gambling legislation still faces a rough road
Despite the odds being in the favor of pro-gaming candidates in these three races, gambling proponents still face an uphill battle in the coming legislative session. PlayTexas has followed the arduous pathway to gambling legalization in the Texas Senate, and we’ll continue to chart that path as the new class of lawmakers take office.
Depending on how sports betting legislation fares in California this November, focus may turn to Texas as the next battleground. If that happens, we may see legal gambling legislation on the legislative floor this spring.
Even still, it would take a constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote in both houses before reaching the governor’s desk and finally the 2023 ballot.