Could Texas Politics Smother Sports Betting?

Recent comments by a powerful politician are casting serious doubt on the possibility of a sports-betting bill being passed this year in Texas.

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2023 1:27 PM ET Read Time: 3 min
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Partisan politics could stand in the way of legalizing sports betting sites this year in the Lone Star State.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was on the Chad Hasty Show on Thursday and was asked for his thoughts on legal sports betting and casino gaming legislation currently making the rounds in Austin.

As lieutenant governor, Patrick also serves as president of the Texas Senate, giving the Republican a large role in both the executive and legislative branches of state government. According to Patrick, the support for Texas sports betting just isn’t there in his chamber — at least not from his party.

Patrick noted that legalizing sports betting or expanding casino gaming would require a constitutional amendment, which means getting two-thirds of lawmakers and a majority of voters to approve that change. This, the LG said, means there would need to be 21 of 31 senators in favor of the legislation. 

There is a path to 21, according to Patrick. However, the LG suggested the path at this point would probably be the 12 Democrats that are in the minority in the Senate being joined by nine or so Republicans from the majority. 

But that, Patrick said, would mean the Democrats would be running the show in the Senate. And Patrick, again, a Republican, is not about to let that happen. 

“I'm not letting the Democrats run the Senate,” he said during the radio show. “People didn't elect me to let the Democrats decide what we do.” 

The numbers game

Patrick added that 15 or 16 of the 19 Republicans in the Senate would need to be in favor of gambling-related legislation for him to even think about it.

“[Rep. Jeff Leach, the sponsor of the online sports betting legislation] is a good friend and a good man,” Patrick said. “He can do what he wants in the House. But we don't have the votes in the Senate as we sit here today.” 

The comments by the lieutenant governor raise serious doubts about the possibility of any sports-betting bill being passed in Texas during this legislative session, despite several such bills currently circulating in the legislature. If nothing is passed this session, which is scheduled to run until the end of May, that would mean waiting until at least 2025 for another attempt because the legislature only sits in odd-numbered years.

In other words: the odds of sports betting getting legalized in Texas this year just took a turn for the worse. That would put one of the biggest untapped markets for operators out of reach for another few years and leave bettors in the state with no legal options for event wagering.

'It's here to stay'

Furthermore, Patrick’s comments followed a lengthy hearing on Wednesday during which supporters and opponents of Leach’s online sports betting bill weighed in, including the sports teams and sportsbook operators that are in favor of its passage.

With all that said, even if Texas does not legalize sports betting this session, it seems very likely the issue will just keep popping up again and again in the state legislature. As more than half of U.S. states have legalized some form of event wagering, the industry and voters will probably continue to press the matter. 

“If it's not clear to you yet, I think it will be clear after you hear testimony on this bill today that… wagering on sports is here, and it's here to stay,” Leach said during Wednesday’s meeting.

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