When Representative Harold Dutton introduced a Texas sports betting bill and constitutional amendment, he created a frenzy. Bettors and sports journalists speculated about the greatest casinos in the (second) largest state in the Union. But when Dan Huberty introduced two new sports betting bills at the end of February, the enthusiasm started again. This was definitely a sign that sports betting was coming to Texas.
And only one of these people has shown any sign of budging on gambling expansion.
Dan Huberty’s Two Sports Betting Bills
On February 23, 2021, Representative Dan Huberty introduced two sports betting bills. One is House Bill 2070. It lays out details like tax rates, license fees, and other nuts and bolts of a new sports betting industry. The other, House Joint Resolution 97 is a constitutional amendment that would add a provision for sports betting to the state constitution. If passed, HJR 97 would put the issue on the ballot in November.
The main difference between these bills and Representative Dutton’s bills is party affiliation. Rep. Dutton is a Democrat. Rep. Huberty is a Republican. There are now dueling sports betting proposals in the Texas legislature. Here are some of the main differences between them:
|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
Bettors may be surprised to see a Democratic bill have a lower tax rate than a Republican bill. But bettors should keep two things in mind. First, Rep. Dutton is a Texas Democrat. Second, he’s one of the longest-serving members of the Texas House of Representatives. He’s been around long enough to know what kind of bill secures bipartisan support. (And any Texas native knows what attitudes toward tax increases look like in November.)
However, Rep. Huberty’s makes up for his higher tax rates and license fees with lower license renewal fees. While Rep. Dutton has opted for lower tax rates and license fees, he has a higher license renewal fee. Rep. Huberty doesn’t just cut license renewal fees in half. He separates them into tiers depending on the type of license. It’s a tradeoff between up-front costs and recurring costs.
A classic business dilemma.
Where Both Sets Of Bills Will Hit Dead Ends
While the Republican base is less diverse than the Democratic one, Republicans aren’t homogenous enough to avoid infighting. Casual political viewers will recognize the business-friendly Republican. But just like Georgia, Texas is a southern state with enough flavors of Republican to derail a sports betting bill. When we covered Georgia, we singled out religious and social conservatives as key Republican groups standing in the way of passing sports betting with a Republican majority. In Texas, the bigger focus is on religious conservatives.
Especially the two who with few sympathies to gambling expansion.
Dan Patrick is Texas’ Lieutenant Governor. He’s also a staunchly conservative Christian whose faith informs his opposition to gambling. Conservative religious traditions frown upon gambling. Revenue earned by chance and not by hard work is antithetical to the Protestant work ethic. That’s all before diving into gambling’s bad reputation in that circle. So, Dan Patrick is a firm opponent to all gambling, whether it’s opening casinos in Texas to legalizing sports betting.
But as Lieutenant Governor, he is also President of the Texas Senate. With little exaggeration, no bill will become law unless he wants it to. He has firmer opposition to gambling than some members of his caucus who see revenue opportunities in sports betting. But Dan Patrick is standing by his principles. According to KXAN, he said sports betting “won’t see the light of day.” Any gambling bill is dead in the water–regardless of which party introduces it.
Ken Paxton is another religious conservative who has many other die-hard conservative credentials including:
- Suing the Obama administration 27 times.
- Supporting the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban.
- Making abortion and religious freedom core issues of his campaign and work in office.
This is not the profile of a man in favor of gambling expansion. In fact, he released an opinion in 2016 that argued daily fantasy sports contests were illegal gambling under Texas law. (Although, he issued no opinion about private poker clubs to years later.) Today, he remains opposed to both casinos and sports betting. Having the Attorney General Oppose an entire industry based on first principles makes passing gambling bills challenging.
How Governor Greg Abbott Could Tip The Balance
There’s one path to sports betting and casino legalization that’s unlikely, but possible based on the other paths we’ve eliminated. Governor Abbott has been the most amenable to casino and sports betting legalization out of Texas’ power trio. Although he could be classified as a religious conservative, he doesn’t seem to have the vitriol that Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton do. At least, not on the issue of gambling. He’s more open to the business-friendly aspect of gaming expansion that other Republicans make careers out of.
However, Governor Abbott has taken a subtle step in telling lobbyists what would convince him. The Texas Tribune reports that he’s implored them to talk about revenue in terms of “long-term commitments” rather than quick fixes. Governor Abbott also wants to sound his constituents out to see whether they approve gaming expansion. (And whether the politics of loosening Texas’ gaming laws are viable.)
If Governor Abbott was convinced to legalize sports betting or casinos, he could bring Dan Patrick along for the ride. According to the Texas Tribune, Dan Patrick has commented that lobbyists who pitch casino legalization should focus on jobs and tourism. That could signal an openness to gaming expansion. However, Governor Abbott seems more open to gaming expansion than Dan Patrick.
But if the Governor and the President of the Senate rallied behind a gaming expansion bill, gambling could come to Texas.
Where Texas’ Power Trio Leaves Sports Betting Bills
Currently, Texas’ power trio opposes sports betting. So, no matter how many sports betting bills are introduced, the bills will likely die in committee. The grim fate of Texas gaming bills crosses party lines. Whether the bill is sponsored by a Democrat or Republican, it’s staggeringly unlikely to pass. So as interesting as Rep. Huberty’s idea of licensing professional sports leagues is, it’s unlikely to materialize.
If sports betting comes to Texas, we’ll get a clear signal from Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, or Ken Paxton. It’ll most likely begin with Greg Abbott, followed by a reluctant Dan Patrick. Ken Paxton will probably remain opposed to sports betting or any gaming expansion. While Las Vegas Sands continues lobbying Texas, we’ll watch to see whether Texas warms up to the idea of gambling. But so far, there’s no reason to think a gaming bill will make it to a vote in the Senate–much less the Governor’s desk.