It’s uncertain whether Texas will ever embrace gambling expansion.
But a new bill could be a very preliminary step toward that as another measure to legalize daily fantasy sports in the Lone Star State is up for consideration in the House of Representatives.
What’s the status of Texas daily fantasy sports games right now?
Technically, daily fantasy games that require real money buy-ins and award cash prizes are illegal in Texas. A 2016 opinion from the state’s attorney general defined daily fantasy sports as gambling.
In that opinion, which is not binding, Attorney General Ken Paxton acknowledged that enforcing the state’s law in regard to online DFS games would be difficult, if not impossible. DraftKings and FanDuel already accepted paid entries in the state with impunity.
Spending the resources necessary to track and prosecute these “crimes” would bring little benefit to the state. Therefore, state law on the matter is essentially moot. All laws are only as powerful as their enforcement mechanisms and the will of prosecutors to force the issues.
So even if HB 393 does become law, classifying online DFS games as those of skill and not of chance would be a largely symbolic move. That symbolism is exactly why the bill may never see the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott.
Resistance to gambling expansion in Texas
Despite its dense population and proximity to states with more robust gambling scenes, Texas remains a forbidden place for legal gambling enterprises.
Nearby, Louisiana saw most parishes approve regulated sports betting earlier this year. Commercial casinos in Arkansas and tribal casinos in New Mexico offer wagering on sporting events. Additionally, there are tribal casinos in Oklahoma, which has yet to legalize sports betting.
Right now, the only form of gambling that’s explicitly legal in Texas is the state lottery. There’s been no further expansion because of a lack of support in the state’s legislature.
For example, a similar bill to HB 393 never saw a vote in the Senate in 2019. Like the latest bill, HB 2903 would have made DFS games explicitly legal.
What would latest DFS bill do in Texas?
The sponsor of HB 393, Rep. Joe Moody, has spoken about the clarity his bill would provide on the subject of the DFS games that many Texans play.
“As a former prosecutor and understanding that discretion lies with a couple hundred prosecutors across the state, it doesn’t take but one person who thinks this is wrong to ring up a whole bunch of people,” Moody said.
Regardless, some of his colleagues could view making online DFS games explicitly legal as a steppingstone to more gambling expansion. That could supersede Moody’s narrative of simply shoring up the legality of an activity that exists in a legal gray area.
While the fate of HB 393 remains uncertain, there is good news for DFS players in Texas. It’s more about what’s not happening than what is going on in Austin.
Lack of negative momentum a good sign for Texas DFS players
Moody may not be able to enlist a sufficient number of his colleagues to help pass the bill. However, it doesn’t look like there is any interest in contrary legislation.
More simply put, no Texas legislators have proposed bills to explicitly outlaw DFS games in the state. Coupled with law enforcement’s indifference, it seems the future of DFS operators in the state is secure even if HB 393 goes nowhere.
Should that happen, it’s more of a sign that the state still isn’t ready to talk about any expansion of legal gambling. If Moody is successful in this session, it may give hope for the future to those who want to see more gaming in the Lone Star State.