Everything is bigger in Texas, and that certainly includes high school football. The game courses through the fabric of everyday life in Texas. People pray for health, prosperity, and a victory on Friday Night. And it raises the question: If gambling were legalized, would Texas allow betting on high school football?
Texas is one of those places that’s still digging in its heels against legal gambling. Texas Sports Betting has come close to serious consideration many times. In the 2021 legislative session, legislators in both houses put forth sports betting bills. Unfortunately, the bills keep failing to advance out of committees.
If one of those bills did advance, would it allow betting on one of Texas’ most popular pastimes?
Texans obsessed with high school football
Gray Levy, in his 2015 book, Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas Football, illustrates how in many rural areas, the town and its high school football team are synonymous.
“In Texas, it’s still accepted wisdom that football builds boys into men and can lift a school and community in ways no other activity can.”
It is not uncommon to see the entire population of a small town cheering in the local stadium on a Friday night. The game brings people together. It seems the smaller the town, the more passion it displays for its high school football team.
The love and obsession one west Texas town, Odessa, showed for its high school football team, the Permian Panthers, inspired the book, movie and TV series, “Friday Night Lights.”
Moreover, the passionate investment in high school football translates into Texas representation in the NFL. This year, Houston tied Miami for most players on starting NFL rosters.
There were 19 players each from Houston (TX) and Miami (FL) high schools on Kickoff Weekend rosters, tied for the most of any city. Detroit (MI) produced the third-most players (16) in 2022, followed by Tampa (FL) with 15 players. pic.twitter.com/VGZZ9RsGWK
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 16, 2022
Legal sports betting in Texas would be unequaled
So, with all the fanfare circulating around high school football in Texas, it should come as no surprise that many sportsbooks and gamblers would like to bet on these games, legally. Right now, the only operators taking action on Texas high school football games are off-shore sportsbooks.
Most agree that a Texas sports betting market would easily become one of the most lucrative in the US. Several big names, including gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and a coalition of Dallas-area sports teams, have come out in support of sports betting.
But even if Texas legalized sports betting, there’s no doubt high school sports would be off-limits to wagering.
The stakes are simply too high.
High school sports lack safeguards
There are legitimate concerns that gambling could affect the integrity of high school sports events. Athletes, coaches and officials could become vulnerable to match-fixing.
Pro and college sports have mechanized controls to prevent tampering with results. High school games have no such safeguards in place. Anyone who’s spent time around professional and collegiate sports long enough has witnessed how corruption can infiltrate the games.
Ultimately, it’s the duty of the athletics boards to protect young athletes, who are often still children. Children under immense pressure. This is sometimes forgotten.
Most sportsbooks and lawmakers on same page
Most sportsbooks and lawmakers across the country agree that high school sports is out of bounds to betting. Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations for Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook, sees it that way.
“We don’t take bets on any amateur events outside of college events, and that would include high school sports. We know high school football is really big in the South and other areas of the country, but I don’t see the need to set any lines for those games.”
Nearly five years have passed since the Supreme Court decided to allow betting in every state. Still, it’s hard to imagine that betting on high school football games, in Texas or anywhere else in the US, will ever be allowed.
Bearing in mind that presently all forms of wagering are prohibited in Texas (at least until the Legislature meets again in 2023), it would take a lot of lobbying and convincing to see a high school sports betting bill passed.
So far, there isn’t a single state in the union that permits betting on high school football games.
And rightly so.