Rep. Dan Huberty knows he has an uphill battle to legalize Texas sports betting this year. But he has a two-part argument he thinks will appeal to legislative colleagues.
First, people in the sports-crazed Lone Star State are already placing bets.
“The NFL estimates there was $5.6 billion wagered by Texans at illegal offshore websites. Right now there’s no regulation, no protections for consumers, and it generates no revenue for the state of Texas. Why in world would we continue allowing that to happen? We believe that a legally regulated sports betting market will help deter illegal betting already happening in the state of Texas.”
Second, lawmakers should let their constituents decide if they want legal sports betting. Even conservative legislators who generally oppose gambling expansions can’t argue with the will of the people.
His H 2070 to implement sports betting won’t pass without HJR 97, which amends the state constitution to allow sports wagering. Constitutional amendments must go in front of voters.
“I understand some people are going to be against it,” Huberty said. “All I’m asking members to do is allow voters to determine if they want to legalize, regulate and tax sports betting. Texans want their liberties and freedoms to do what they want to do.”
Texas wild card: influential sports team owners
Texas is a state that takes pride in doing things its own way, and sports betting is no exception.
Sports betting teams would be the primary licensees in Huberty’s bill, which has a companion offering in the Senate from Sen. Juan Hinojosa.
Not only would the major professional teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Rockets and Houston Astros get to offer retail and online sports betting, but minor league teams could offer retail sports wagering at their stadiums.
Horse racetracks, motorsports tracks and PGA golf courses also would get sports betting. It’s a unique approach for a state that doesn’t currently have casinos.
While some Texas lawmakers might be against legalizing sports betting now, Huberty thinks their minds might change once they start hearing from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta or Astros owner Jim Crane.
“I expect Mr. Jones or Mr. Fertitta or Mr. Crane to have conversations with some of my colleagues or their staff, not to push them in any one direction but to educate them,” Huberty said. “Everyone is interested in this because they say it creates opportunity for us to get our fans engaged with us again, and that’s really important.”
Huberty doesn’t think Lieutenant Dan is a hopeless cause
When Huberty’s bill was just a rumor, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asserted that he wasn’t in support and didn’t expect sports betting “to see the light of day this session.”
Huberty doesn’t believe that Patrick’s initial negative response to the legislation is a death sentence.
He and Patrick both hail from Harris County and have known each other for 20 years, before either was elected.
Huberty said he looks forward to discussing sports betting with Patrick.
“What I know about the lieutenant governor is he’s thoughtful, pragmatic and fact-based. I think he’ll be open minded about it. We’ll show him the facts on the money already bet illegally in the state of Texas. I know him well enough to know we can at least have that discussion going forward.”
Sports betting implementation language or bust
The lawmakers in each chamber introduced separate sports betting bills for the constitutional amendment and implementation.
Last year, Maryland legislators couldn’t come to an agreement on how to do sports wagering, so they got voter approval first and came back this session to work out the details.
However, Huberty doesn’t think Texas would pass the constitutional amendment bill without the implementation language.
“It’s probably both or not at all,” Huberty said. “That’s how we typically do it. We like to pass them at the same time so voters aren’t just voting on legalizing sports gambling. They’re voting on if they’re ok with what the legislature passed.”
Huberty expects his bill to be assigned to the House Licensing and Regulation Committee, on which he sits. Given the resistance at the top of the Senate, he plans to get a committee hearing and get the bill moving in the House first.
“My focus is 100% on the Texas House, getting it through committee, on the floor and over to the Senate,” Huberty said. “I think we have a very good chance to have the debate I want.”