Texas Ponders Sports Betting

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Sports betting and additional casinos took center stage last night in front of a key Texas Hosue committee as proponents hope to put both before voters come the fall. 

The Texas House Committee on State Affairs heard testimony last night from a myriad of stakeholders hoping to see a state referendum on sports betting come November.

House Bill 2070, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R) would put sports betting on the November ballot for Lone Star State residents. If approved, sports betting would be legal just in time for the NFL playoffs in January.

A legal, regulated sports betting market will help deter unlawful sports betting in and provide strict state oversight over sports betting operators while generating new revenue for state coffers,” Huberty wrote in a joint op-ed earlier this month in the Rio Grande Guardian, along with state Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D) who has sponsored companion legislation in the state Senate.

The Sports Betting Alliance, which is a conglomerate of Texas professional sports teams, supports the measure. 

Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told the Dallas Morning News earlier this year, he supports increased gambling opportunities in the state. 

“I think it’s time…it makes no sense for us to force Texans to go to neighboring states to gamble in casinos,” he said in an email to the paper.

Revenue Projections

In their op-ed Huberty and Hinojosa said the state could see as much $180 million in annual revenue as a result of legalized sports betting.  They estimated $5 billion worth of illegal sports betting takes place annually. 

During the hearing Huberty said he expects that revenue to be targeted toward the state’s education needs. 

The committee adjourned without holding a vote.  Hinojosa’s legislation, Senate Bill 736, has been referred to the Senate Business & Commerce Committee with no hearing date set. 

Vegas Sands Supports Texas Expansion

Also on the docket yesterday was consideration of House Joint Resolution 133 which calls for the development of four casinos in Texas.  Like the sports betting legislation, in order for it to become law, it must be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

Las Vegas Sands is set to unveil a multi-million dollar advertising campaign today supporting the measure, the Texas Tribune first reported.  

The campaign includes television and radio ads, a website and social media posts.

The four casinos would be built in the largest cities, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Andy Abboud, a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands, told the committee the casinos would become “destinations inside must-see destinations.”

In answer to committee concerns about how some casinos built outside of Las Vegas don’t attract visitors, Abboud told them to look no farther than Connecticut. The Foxwoods Casino and the Mohegan Sun Casino, each more than 25 years old, have become economic engines in portions of the state that were previously rural.

There is no big hole there, he said, noting the tremendous growth both casinos have seen around them since they first opened. 

Legislative Outlook

The 2021 Texas Legislature is set to end its session on May 31.  Republicans control both the House and the Senate.  While committee members yesterday appeared open to moving forward, both pieces of legislation still face an uphill climb.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R) is president of the state Senate and holds considerable sway within the chamber and the party.  

He said earlier this year in a radio interview he did not expect sports betting and casino legislation to advance this year. 

“I’ve never been in favor of it,” Patrick told Texas radio station KFYO in Lubbock, Texas in February. “We are nowhere near having the votes for it.

About the Author

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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