Texas Rep. Harold Dutton Proposes Online-Only Sports Betting Bill

Written By Martin Harris on January 19, 2021

It’s official: The eyes of Texas are upon legalized sports betting.

On the heels of rumors that something big was brewing, Texas Rep. Harold Dutton proposed a new online-only sports betting bill.

The legislation arrives with the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott, while owners of some of the state’s major sports franchises are also said to be on board.

Even so, it appears much work lies ahead before anyone places a legal sports bet in the Lone Star State.

Details of Texas sports betting proposal

The bill, HB 1121, would introduce legal sports betting to Texas, albeit in a somewhat modest fashion.

If passed, the legislation would permit online sports betting only, with no provisions for retail “brick-and-mortar” sportsbooks. At present, all but one state with legal sports betting currently allows retail sportsbooks, with Tennessee the exception.

The bill would only allow regulators to issue a maximum of five sports betting licenses at a time. That is considerably fewer than what other states allow, and would seem insufficient for a state as populous as Texas.

The bill also explicitly prohibits betting on contests involving Texas colleges and universities or youth sports. Such a restriction would not be unique to Texas, as some other states similarly disallow betting on in-state schools. However, Texans not being able to bet on University of Texas Longhorns football or Baylor Bears basketball would seem a drawback.

Additionally, Dutton’s bill would establish a very low 6.25% tax rate on revenue, less than what any other state with sports betting currently imposes.

The bill does not mention sportsbooks having to use official league data to settle wagers. The Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation would be charged with regulating sports betting in the state.

The introduction of HB 1121 does not necessarily presage a smooth journey to passage. One obstacle Dutton’s bill and any other sports betting faces is the fact that any change to Texas gambling laws requires a constitutional amendment.

Bill lands following a week of sports betting rumors

Earlier in the week, Legal Sports Report shared that, according to multiple sources, Abbott’s office had reached out to both lobbyists and regulators for guidance concerning how best to legalize sports betting in the state.

“Something is going to happen in Texas” with regard to sports betting, according to lobbyist Bill Pascrell III. In part, that belief stemmed from the fact that “the governor is interested” in the subject.

Reports further indicated the sports betting effort enjoyed the additional backing of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta.

Among provisions earlier floated were permitting the issuance of as many as 14 to 20 licenses. Also discussed was the possibility of the state’s professional teams being eligible to hold licenses. Licenses could likewise go to the state’s horse racing tracks. None of those provisions made it into HB 1121.

Legal Sports Report also reported how other factors — including opposition from colleges, challenges by Oklahoma tribes and a possible future push for casino gambling — could all complicate the legalization of Texas sports betting.

In any case, the discussion of sports betting in Texas is certainly lively at present. Further bills could come, as well as hearings on them between now and the end of the current legislative session on May 31.

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