Texas and online sports betting: Dramatic vote of approval

Content Team 1 year ago
Texas and online sports betting: Dramatic vote of approval

The winds of change are blowing in the Lone Star State! The Texas House has given the green light to online sports betting, a major win for the state’s bettors.

Texas casino proposals hang in the balance

With two gambling bills successfully passing through committee and on their way to the US Senate, Texas’ gambling regulations are on the cusp of imminent change.

But the casino proposals still hang in the balance, with Friday’s deadline serving as the ultimate arbiter of their fate. While the future of Texas casinos remains uncertain, online sports betting enthusiasts can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

State Representative Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, faced three consecutive postponements to discuss a resolution permitting Texans to vote on eight luxury casinos opening up in the state. One of the amendments passed earlier in the week would require an Austin-based casino.

Geren’s third delay pushed the debate until Friday at noon, creating a tight window of time before the House’s midnight deadline to pass any House resolution in this legislative session. Speculations suggest that Geren is struggling to garner the 100 votes required to achieve the House’s two-thirds threshold and advance the resolution.

The mild interest from lawmakers is a worrying sign for casino juggernauts such as Las Vegas Sands, who are desperate to do business in Texas. However, conservative politicians remain concerned that gambling would negatively impact families, leading to addictions while hardly boosting the state’s economy.

The Texas Senate stands as a formidable roadblock to the casino lobby, showing little inclination to even debate the topic, let alone pass it. Furthermore, the upper house may not even vote on the House’s sports betting resolution. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston, declared in March that neither proposal has enough support from the 31-member chamber to make it out of committee.

Casino approval remains uncertain

Texas in the USA map
With over 268,596 square miles (695,660 square km) and 30 million residents in 2023, Texas is the second-largest state in the United States, following only Alaska in size and California in population.

As constitutional amendments, both casino and sports betting resolutions require two-thirds support from the House to proceed, in contrast to the majority vote necessary for most legislation. Neither proposal met that 100-vote threshold in a preliminary vote on Wednesday, and proponents rallied additional support before Thursday’s votes.

The sports betting resolution succeeded, rising from 97 votes in favour on Wednesday to 101 on Thursday. Rep. Ellen Troxclair, R-Lakeway, flipped her vote from “no” to “yes,” citing conversations with constituents from her rural Central Texas district who support online sports betting.

Numerous major Texas sports teams are backing the legalisation of online sports betting, with representatives from several franchises speaking in favour of the legislation at a House committee hearing in March.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that prohibited it in 2018, nearly 40 states have joined the online sports betting bandwagon. Texas has been slow to follow suit, but advocates say it’s high time the state catches up, especially given that Texans are already placing illegal bets in other states and countries, amounting to a potential loss of $180 million a year in tax revenue.

“The problem is, if we don’t do this now, millions of Texans are going to continue to commit illegal behaviour,” said the resolution’s author, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who expressed his support on Wednesday.

Should the casino or sports betting resolution miraculously pass both the Texas House and Senate, Texans would have the ultimate say as to whether or not they should become a constitutional amendment.

However, the casino initiative hit a stumbling block when San Antonio Democratic Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer voiced his opposition, pointing out that the resolution did not include a requirement for casinos to hire union workers or minority-owned businesses. While Martinez Fischer hinted that he may change his stance in the future, he made it clear that it would not be this year.

“I’m not a ‘no.’ I’m a ‘not now,’” he said Wednesday. “Let’s spend time getting it right.”

Drama and delays

The sports betting resolution took centre stage in the Texas House of Representatives, with a nail-biting drama that had supporters cheering before being abruptly halted. House Speaker Dade Phelan granted a request for a vote verification, disqualifying Rep. Oscar Longoria’s yes vote since he wasn’t at his seat. This put the tally at only 99 votes in favour, but two lawmakers said that their machines malfunctioned, and they couldn’t vote. The representatives asked to be counted as voting yes, making the total 101 votes in favour of the resolution.

Meanwhile, the casino resolution faced its own drama, with several delays and a midnight deadline looming. The bill’s author, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, requested multiple postponements and was struggling to gather the necessary 100 votes required for it to pass the House. The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas strongly opposed the resolution, fearing bankruptcy if casinos are legalised, since their casino in Eagle Pass is dependent on San Antonio gamblers. An amendment that would’ve allowed the tribe to find an alternative site for its operation was killed as it went beyond the resolution’s scope.

Texas would join nearly 40 other states that have legalised online sports betting since the US Supreme Court’s 2018 decision. The sports betting resolution’s supporters argue that legalising online sports betting in Texas could bring in $180 million annually in tax revenue and prevent Texans from placing illegal bets elsewhere. While the major sports franchises in Texas support the push to legalise online sports betting, not everyone is on board. San Antonio Democratic Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer spoke out against casinos, criticising the resolution’s lack of requirement to hire union workers or businesses operated by women or people of colour.

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