Despite the fact that Texas has one of the most sports-crazed populations of any US state, sports betting in every form is currently illegal in the Lone Star State.
For the last few years, legalized sports betting has swept the nation, and Texans have watched from outside the fence. Their neighbors–Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Colorado–have all legalized some form of gambling or sports betting. Pro teams in Texas have also begun to partner with sports betting operators.
However, as the 2023 Legislative Session is upon us, the Sports Betting Alliance, a collection of nearly all major pro sports teams in the state along with major sports betting operators, have emphasized the need for online sports betting in Texas.
Texans already betting in large numbers
The fact is many Texans already bet on sports. As many as 2 million bets a year are placed in Texas. They’re all made offshore, which is to say illegally. So, none of the money spent on sports betting by Texans actually serves Texas. It serves offshore sportsbooks. It leaves the state and is gone forever.
To emphasize this point, the Sports Betting Alliance has enlisted former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to deliver their message. In choosing Perry, the SBA hopes to bring reluctant Republicans into the fold in advance of the 2023 legislative session.
Furthermore, DraftKings CEO Jason Robbins noted, advertising sports betting in states where it’s illegal just fuels the offshore market.
Let’s get into why this happens. Let’s explore Texas sports betting to better understand where it sits relative to its counterparts.
Is Texas sports betting legal?
Again, no. Although it’s not for a lack of trying.
There have been many attempts, most recently State Sen. Carol Alvarado, fighting for the legalization of casino gambling and retail sports betting in Texas. However, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who holds sway over the Texas Senate, is still in opposition.
Patrick has gone as far as saying gambling legislation will never “see the light of day.” In the lead up to the 2023 session though, he has been rather quiet, only stating that he has seen “no movement” from Republicans on the issue. While still rather dismissive, his current comments lack the level of personal opposition shown in the past.
This type of rhetoric has discouraged some lawmakers in the state from even attempting to fight for legalization. Many fear that even if there were enough support in the legislature that the governor would simply veto anything that gains steam.
That veto now seems less likely. Gov. Abbott has softened on his stance towards legal gambling. In February, he stated for the first time a tacit endorsement of sports betting, call it “just really a form of entertainment.”
Despite the fickle political landscape, most Texans are in favor of legalizing both casino gambling and sports betting. PlayTexas projects that if it were to pass, legal sports betting in Texas would quickly become the largest market in the country.
However, while not sports betting, there is one avenue interested gamblers in Texas can take. That’s the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel. Owned and operated by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, this Eagle Pass establishment offers slots, poker and bingo.
Are daily fantasy sports legal in Texas?
In states where online sports betting (and in Texas’ case, sports betting at all) isn’t available, daily fantasy sports (DFS) is typically a popular option. This is also the case in the Longhorn State, however, it’s not without incident.
Attorney General Ken Paxton said in 2016 that DFS contests are gambling under state law. This would make the act illegal. DraftKings followed by filing a lawsuit, which is still ongoing. And while DFS is not explicitly legal in the state at this time, there’s also no law prohibiting it.
Because of this, companies such as DraftKings or FanDuel operate, albeit in a grey area. But if lawmakers in the state regulate the DFS market quickly, it could generate up to $50 million a year in fantasy revenue.
Will 2023 be the year for legal Texas sports betting?
After failing to make any headway in 2021 and with the Texas Legislature only meeting in odd years, 2023 could be a pivotal year. There’s a glimmer of hope that casinos and sports betting will, at the very least, be addressed in the near future.
The Sports Betting Alliance, through the sponsorship of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, have filed a bill that would amend the state constitution to allow for online sports betting.
Sen. Alvarado and Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, have both filed legislation that would establish resort casinos in major metropolitan areas in the state with an added provision for retail sports books.
With Gov. Abbott’s tacit interest in hearing debate on the topic, the increasing number of high-profile Texans supporting sports betting, and an army of lobbyists at work in Austin, legal gambling legislation in various forms will have a better chance at reaching floor debate.
Sen Alvarado is leading the charge again in attempting to get Senate Joint Resolution 19, potentially the best proposal to legalize gambling in the state, to a vote. In an interview with PlayTexas earlier this year, she said while the framework has “more Republican support,” whether or not gambling and sports betting will be legalized in 2023 is “hard to say.”
Teams still dipping into sports betting world
Despite sports betting being illegal in Texas, multiple professional teams in the state have still capitalized.
The Houston Astros signed a deal with BetMGM in May that would make it their exclusive sports betting partner. And while there won’t be any physical sportsbooks at Minute Maid Park, BetMGM signage can be seen throughout. BetMGM and the Astros also offer promotions for customers in nearby Louisiana.
Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets, signed a deal with DraftKings in 2021, giving the operator an exclusive partnership as the team’s DFS, sports betting, and online gaming partner. If sports betting is legalized, Fertitta has said that he would open a DraftKings sportsbook in the Toyota Center in Houston.
Additionally, Houston Dynamo FC of MLS signed a deal with Fubo Gaming in January. Sadly, the folding of the sportsbook occurred before the Dynamo reaped any benefits. Before that even, Austin FC agreed to an exclusive partnership with PointsBet.
With a number of other teams left in the state, including prominent college brands in the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, to name a few, it’s safe to assume these won’t be the last sports betting deals struck in the Longhorn State, no matter how long it takes the state legislature to legalize.