The Sports Betting Alliance, a collective of major Texas sports teams and four prominent online sportsbook operators, has been busy educating legislators on the burgeoning illegal gaming market in Texas.
When the 2021 legislative session ended without any gambling or Texas sports betting legislation making it out of committee, the Sports Betting Alliance stuck around Austin to keep the conversation going.
Cara Gustafson, spokesperson for the SBA, spoke with PlayTexas to explain how the SBA has progressed since then.
“Last session, the Legislature dealt with a wide bandwidth of issues. We were competing with COVID, the winter storm, redistricting. We couldn’t break through, but we created momentum.”
Illegal market swallowing Texas revenue
Since 2021, the SBA has made the growing illegal market their prime lever to convince legislators of the need to legalize and regulate sports wagering.
On both sides of the aisle, Gustafson noted concerns by the legislators for Texas consumers exposed to shady offshore sportsbooks as well as shock at how prevalent the offshore market had become.
“In 2021, the illegal market raked in $5 billion in illegal bets. That number ballooned to over $8 billion in 2022. Consumers don’t always realize it’s illegal, but it is. And it’s not going anywhere. We’re saying to the legislators, ‘Here’s how we help the consumer.’”
Gustafson’s data come from a recent Eilers & Krejcik Gaming study that found the following key data points regarding the Texas illegal market:
- 2 million illegal bets placed every year in Texas
- $5 billion in revenue generated from illegal bets in 2021
- $8.7 billion in revenue generated from illegal bets in 2022
In 2021, legislators didn’t have this data. Gustafson said these findings were a wakeup call for Republicans and Democrats in Austin.
“Once they find out about these illegal markets, we’re getting more interest and support. The data really hits home. We’re able to show legislators that these numbers will keep growing unless we step in as a state.”
Education key with undecided voters
A UT Tyler poll conducted in February 2021 asked voters whether they would support or oppose legalized sports betting. At the time, 31% of respondents chose “undecided” as their answer. Gustafson thinks that number will decrease and turn toward “supports” this time around.
“We can sway people with education and information about the benefits of legalized and regulated gambling.”
One key data point the SBA hopes will reach all consumers is 80%. That represents the percentage of people betting with offshore sportsbooks who do not realize that those bets are illegal.
Whether due to people not knowing the law in Texas or those illegal books effectively looking like legal sportsbooks, the impact is the same. The lack of consumer supports on illegal sites puts people’s money and mental health at risk.
When asked if the increasing number of illegal game room raids and crackdowns on eight-liners will sway voters in a similar way, Gustafson affirmed.
“Those events create an emotional response towards the perils of the illegal markets, and that serves a purpose. However, the SBA will lean more heavily on the prevalence and expansion of the illegal market in their informational campaign with voters.”
Finally, when asked if the SBA was confident that voters would support sports betting legislation, her response was unequivocal.
“Yes. There’s no doubt. The data shows that people support this.”
A unified front on responsible gaming
Gustafson maintains an overwhelmingly optimistic outlook on legalized gaming. This may come as a surprise to those of us who’ve been tracking the issue as state lawmakers seem reluctant to discuss it. One place where the SBA expresses the most optimism is around responsible gaming. Gustafson believes Texas could set a new standard here.
“We have the benefit of watching other states legalize, and we can learn from them. We can be at the forefront of legal gambling protections and gambling addiction. Texas can be a leader in having so many sports fans safely learn about betting and safely execute it. If we can get all the sports teams on the same page, we can show a unified front.”
Texas sports betting partnerships
Texas sports teams have already begun forming sports betting partnerships.
|Team||Sports Book Operator|
|Houston Dynamo||Fubo Sportsbook|
|Houston Texans||Caesars Entertainment|
|San Antonio Spurs||bet365|
While this doesn’t amount to much for Texas bettors right now, it means that Texas sports teams can begin researching responsible gaming practices through operators with experience in other legal markets.
Looking ahead with the SBA
The SBA has legislation drawn up for the coming session. They plan to ramp up the information campaigns for both lawmakers and voters.
They do not endorse individual politicians, so do not expect a sports bettor’s voting guide from them (PlayTexas will address this issue in the near future). You can, however, visit their website for key news and updates on the status of sports betting legalization in the state.