In many parts of the country, sports betting bills have soared through state legislatures. Some have ended up on the ballot, others on the Governor’s desk. But the southern states have only just begun introducing sports betting bills in earnest. Two large southern states, Texas and Arizona, have introduced new sports betting bills despite past failed attempts. However, there are important differences between these bills’ issues, details, and probable futures. Here’s how they compare.
Texas’ And Arizona’s Salient Issues
Texas and Arizona don’t have to grapple with the same issues. They’re different states and despite similar conservative leanings, their political landscapes have to deal with different issues.
Texas has to overcome strident moral objections to gambling expansion. Not only does Texas have some of the strictest gambling restrictions in the country. Those strict gambling laws are also a point of state pride. Texas gambling opponents believe that gambling hurts the economy and families. (Technically, they believe that gambling hurts the economy by hurting families, but that’s being picky.) Protecting the economy and Texas families is a killer line down south. It’s one of the things that’s run sports betting into dead ends in the past few years.
But Arizona has its own hurdle to overcome. It has to create a sports betting bill that expands gambling and addresses the concerns of Arizona’s 25 Native American tribes. The Gaming Compact that dictates gambling regulations on and off the reservations is being renegotiated now. The Arizona bill would only go into effect if sports betting was allowed in these tribal negotiations. They’ve made promising progress. But that’s a different challenge from battling the Texas electorate.
Knitty Gritty Bill Details
Texas and Arizona handle the financial details of sports betting differently. The Texas bills detail tax rates, license rates, and other concrete details. In contrast, the Arizona bill would leave those details to the state’s Gaming Commission.
Texas actually has two bills in play right now: one Democrat, one Republican. (Each is also sponsoring state constitutional amendments that would allow gambling, but those aren’t the sports betting bills.) The Democratic sports betting bill has lower tax rates and application fees, but higher license renewal fees. The Republican sports betting bill has higher tax rates and application fees, but lower license renewal fees. It represents an important tradeoff for sportsbooks if they manage to gain a foothold in Texas. Here are the details:
|Bill||Tax Rate||License Fee||License Renewal Fee|
|Dutton (D)||HB 1121||6.25%||$250,000||$200,000|
|Huberty (R)||HB 2070||10%||$500,000||$100,000 - Interactive Sports Wager Permit
$25,000 - Retail Permit
$10,000 - Service Provider Permit
On the other hand, Arizona’s bill offers no tax or license details. Instead, it will charge Arizona’s Gaming Commission with setting those rates. That could be a risky move, but it suggests that the bill’s sponsor isn’t as concerned with specific numbers as he is with bringing a new industry to Arizona. That doesn’t mean it’s not a concern. It likely means the Arizona Gaming Commission is filled with people who will craft regulations that will accomplish his goal.
Or he’s incredibly short-sighted. We’ll go with the first theory for now.
The Texas and Arizona bills differ in one more crucial respect too. Neither Texas bill is likely to pass. The Arizona bill has a chance.
We’ve alluded to Texas’ strong anti-gambling stance already. However, the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Attorney General all oppose gambling expansion. Governor Greg Abbott could be swayed if public opinion drifted in favor of sports betting. He could drag Dan Patrick along for the ride, too. We’ve already written of Ken Paxton as a quixotic anti-gambling figure. But the Governor and the President of the Senate are two reasons not to harbor any faith in Texas gambling bills of any kind. There are millions of dollars in lobbying to go before the needle moves on that issue.
But the Arizona bill doesn’t face that mountain of opposition. In fact, Arizona’s bill is supported by:
- The Governor of Arizona
- Arizona’s Native American tribes
- Elected officials from both sides of the aisle
It’s almost the opposite of Texas. Part of the reason is the short drive from Phoenix to Vegas. It’s easy to drive up to Vegas for the weekend, so Arizona likely has a bunch of residents who enjoy gambling. Offering them a quick gambling option at home would fill a gap in the regional gambling marketplace.
Oh, and generate revenue without raising taxes on the citizenry. That’s a popular selling point, too.
The One Thing Texas And Arizona Have In Common
The differences between Texas’ and Arizona’s bills and political environments are significant. But there’s one thing they have in common. They would allow professional sports franchises to run sportsbooks from their stadiums. It’s a new model that would be the first of its kind in the United States. It doesn’t mean that Jerry Jones would have his own personal sportsbook. It just means that a Texas sportsbook would partner with the Dallas Cowboys to gain access to Texas. It’s unclear how different it would be for bettors and sportsbooks.
But it’s a great way to get powerful sports franchises to lobby on behalf of politicians’ sports betting bills.
However, the experiment is probably going to be run in Arizona first instead of Texas. Arizona has been able to align stakeholders and voters in a way that Texas hasn’t. Even though Arizona is only a couple of states over, it has Vegas on its border. Recapturing some of that gaming revenue is a more pressing concern for Arizona than Texas. Although Arizona can’t compete with Vegas, it can offer convenient sports betting options for bettors who don’t want to travel to Vegas.
Putting It All Together
Texas and Arizona show how seemingly similar states can approach an issue like sports betting drastically differently. Texas has to overcome top elected officials while Arizona just has to hammer out a deal with its 25 tribes. While Texas has its bills doing the heavy lifting, Arizona’s going to leverage its Gaming Commission to set specifics. Arizona has a shot at legalizing sports betting, and Texas’ bills are dead on arrival. However, both states would make professional sports leagues the license holders.
Although Arizona sports betting could launch this year, pro-gambling Republican lobbyists are pouring money into Texas to try to get into the Lone Star State. Arizona is worth watching over the next few months, but we’ll be watching Texas for years to come.