Online-only sports betting legislation in both Houses of the Texas Legislature have been referred to their respective State Affairs Committees.
Senate Joint Resolution 39 and its enabling legislation, Senate Bill 715, have been referred to the State Affairs Committee by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In the House, House Joint Resolution 102 and its enabling legislation, House Bill 1942, have been referred to the same committee By House Speaker Dade Phelan.
The Texas Sports Betting Alliance partnered with Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and Rep. Jeff Leach on the legislation which would create the Texas Gaming Commission and legalize online sports betting in Texas.
State Affairs Committees in both Houses lean Republican
In the Senate, the State Affairs Committee comprises seven Republicans and three Democrats. While sports betting, and gambling in general, are not necessarily partisan issues, in 2021 the State Affairs Committee received Sen. Carol Alvarado’s casino legislation that also authorized sports betting, and left it pending without a hearing.
Five members of the 2021 Committee, which also had a 7-3 Republican majority, remain: Sen. Bryan Hughes, (current committee chair), Sen. Paul Bettencourt, Sen. Brian Birdwell, Sen. Charles Schwertner and Sen. Judith Zaffirini. Zaffirini is the lone Democrat in that group.
In the House, the State Affairs Committee comprises eight Republicans and five Democrats. That committee received two pieces of sports betting legislation in 2021–Rep. Harold Dutton‘s House Joint Resolution 1121, and Rep. Dan Huberty‘s House Joint Resolution 97–and allowed a hearing on only Huberty’s. Both resolutions were left pending in committee.
Of the 2021 House State Affairs Committee, made up of seven Republicans and four Democrats, six remain: Rep. Todd Hunter (current Committee chair), Rep. Ana Hernandez (current vice chair), Rep. Will Metcalf, Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, Rep. Shelby Swanson and Rep. John T. Smithee. Of those six, Hernandez and Raymond are the only democrats.
Committees reconvene Mar. 7, but sports betting legislation has not been set on calendar
Both the House and Senate State Affairs Committee heard a few top priority pieces of legislation in their first week of meetings, but with another week before the Mar. 10 legislative deadline for filing new bills, the Committee’s calendar has not yet been posted.
What comes next for online sports betting legislation?
The next step in the life of online-sports betting legislation is for it to receive a public hearing. That would signal the committee’s general interest in considering the issue. Should the legislation receive a hearing, it would likely receive further discussion by the committee, and a committee vote.
A favorable vote would send the legislation back to the main floor for debate.
A committee, however, do not have to grant any legislation a hearing. Were this to occur, the committee would be indicating a lack of interest in the legislation and the high likelihood that it would be left pending in committee, ending its life in this year’s legislative session and pushing legal online sports betting two years down the road.
Kolkhorst and Patrick’s relationship may boost sports betting’s chances
Before the start of the 2023 legislative session, Patrick told KXAN-TV Austin that he had seen “no movement” on the issue of sports betting by Republican senators and seemed uninterested in discussing it further.
Now, with a Republican sponsor who has the support of Patrick, the Senate has some Republican movement on online sports wagering. Whether this will translate into movement in State Affairs will be seen in the next few weeks when the bill receives its day in committee.
In Texas, though, the Lieutenant Governor holds a great deal of sway over the business of the Senate, and a good word from Patrick could help sports betting finally see the light of day on the Senate floor.
In the House, Phelan has already voiced his interest in sports betting legislation.
A long road still ahead for a sports betting amendment
Should Kolkhorst’s and Leach’s sports betting amendments head back to their respective main floors for debate, the legislation will follow the pathway of a constitutional amendment: a two-thirds majority vote in both houses and then a ballot referendum in the November 2023 special election.