Texas Eyes Sports Betting, Casinos with Governor Support

Texas remains one of the largest states without either a commercial casino or sports betting. Supporters are optimistic that changes this year. Several bills are circulating in the legislature with Governor Greg Abbott (l.) in favor.

Texas Eyes Sports Betting, Casinos with Governor Support

When you think pro sports in Texas, there’s plenty to ponder about. Two NFL teams. Two MLB teams, one the reigning World Series champion. Three NBA teams. But the team that seems to stand out a little more than the rest is the Dallas Cowboys, at least in Texas.

So when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speaks, people in Texas listen. And lately he’s thrown his support behind sports betting in the state. That should garner some legislative support, where several bills are in circulation.

“I think it’s really a thing that needs to be addressed at this time,” Jones told a Texas radio station in January.

Jerry Jones

Texas is one of the largest states without regulated commercial casinos or legal sports betting.

On the administration side, Governor Greg Abbott indicated he won’t stand in the way of legislation this year, so long as the bill doesn’t go overboard.

“It’s really just a form of entertainment,” he said. “And so it depends on how it’s constructed. And we’ll see how far it can advance in the House and Senate.”

But the big question mark: Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who hasn’t come out and slammed proposals in the legislature as he has in the past. Not exactly a booming show of support but not a roadblock either. As Senate president, he carries a ton of weight on the issue.

Another selling point: Texas lawmakers meet every other year, so if nothing passes in 2023 it won’t be revisited until 2025.

“I appreciate the pressures and the hurdles we have to work through,” industry lobbyist Bill Pascrell III recently told Legal Sports Report. “I’d give it a 60-40 chance of getting done this year.”

State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, who has sponsored a standalone bill to permit online sports betting, is reported to be an ally of Patrick, as is former Governor Rick Perry. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta also has a pipeline to the Lieutenant Governor.

Fertitta Tilman

“I think he’s getting smart around it, and I think he’s a critical and important factor toward this moving along,” Pascrell said.

At least one industry person told LSR Patrick will have to do more than say nothing. Like sending a signal that this is the year.

“Otherwise you’re going to have a legislature that is not interested in pursuing something that isn’t blessed by the Lieutenant Governor,” the source said. “I think more work needs to be done to get a firm commitment.”

When asked, Patrick said: “I haven’t had anyone mention it to me, that they are interested in doing anything. A lot of talk out there, but I don’t see any movement on it.”

Here’s what Fertitta said via statement:

“Sports betting is a very popular form of entertainment,” he said in a statement, echoing Abbott. “Sports fans enjoy placing bets on their favorite sports because it brings them closer to the team and puts them in the game.”

Approval means each of the 12 pro teams is likely to obtain a license, along with the PGA TOUR and a pair of racetracks. The bill includes a 10 percent tax rate. The Texas Sports Betting Alliance was formed as a coalition of professional sports teams and sports betting companies—including DraftKings and FanDuel. The group hired Perry as spokesman.

Another piece of proposed legislation not only legalizes sports betting but allows up to four casino resorts. The bill, introduced by Senator Carol Alvarado, has the support of 75 percent of Texans, according to a University of Houston poll.

The standalone bill has taken the position that an amendment to the state constitution is necessary, which requires support by two-thirds of each chamber before getting on the November ballot for a public vote.

In early February, Rep. Charlie Geren introduced a casino bill, one backed by Las Vegas Sands Corp., which will spend more than $6 million this year lobbying in support of the proposal. It would authorize up to seven high-end resorts in the state. For Abbott it may be too much of a good thing.

He explained: “We need, and have an obligation, to make sure that we will not be setting up a system where people without means are using money that they need to pay their bills, to gamble it away and maybe lose it. We need to safeguard against that, as well as make sure no operation is being set up that would lead to any type of crime.”

Sports betting has a better chance to meet Abbott’s expectations, but Sands will not support the standalone sports betting bill.

“I believe that the core bill that’s been backed and worked on by the professional teams is the most likely pathway forward,” Pascrell said. “We don’t have a brick-and-mortar casino industry at all in Texas. And so the Sands legislation has a little bit more of a challenge. I support it, but I think politically it’s got a higher challenge.”

The Sands bill has the support of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. He told the Dallas Morning News he wants to work with the company on a casino adjacent to his team’s future arena.

“I’m personally not sure about bricks and mortar and how I feel about that,” Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi has said previously. “It feels like that might be a stretch for Texas at this stage.”

Cuban has indicated he will not support the online-only bill.

Could Texas pass the casino legislation and not the standalone online sports betting bill? “No chance in hell,” one industry source opined.

Gaming and Leisure Properties (GLPI) Chairman and CEO Peter Carlino is among the skeptics who don’t believe Texas will legalize casinos this year. Carlino would like to see a casino bill reach Abbott’s desk this session, but doesn’t think it will happen, according to WJCL-TV.

“My sense is at the moment nothing material is going to happen,” Carlino told analysts last week on Gaming and Leisure Properties’ fourth-quarter earnings call.

Carlino said the sports betting bill could pass a referendum since it has the support of the major pro teams.

Since GLPI owns Zia Park Racetrack and Casino in Hobbs, New Mexico, and five casinos in Louisiana—all making money from Texans—you’d think they would oppose a casino bill. Not so.

“I’ve always said somewhere in my lifetime, I hope that Texas gets full gaming,” Carlino said. “But my sense is, and from what I’m hearing, that’s not likely to happen in this first round.”

Jefferies gaming analyst David Katz said “questionable support” in the Senate could doom the casino bills, even with the strong polling data.

“Obviously, we want to make sure that we’re around the hoop for any state, any activity, anywhere,” he said.

In an interview at his office in the Capitol, Abbott said he does not want “gambling operations on every street corner, every 7-Eleven” or even inside airport terminals across the state. So it depends on how it’s constructed. “And we’ll see how far it can advance in the House and Senate,” according to Corpus Christi Caller Times.

“We can’t have a system also that takes money out of the hands of people who need to be able to pay their bills and buy their food and have them lose out on gambling, where they then need to depend upon the state,” he said.

Lois Kolkhorst, one of the senior Republicans whom Patrick has appointed to chair a major Senate committee, has filed a sports-betting measure that has the backing of nearly every major professional sports franchise in Texas —including the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Dallas FC and Dallas Mavericks, along with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Texans and Austin FC.

A similar measure is in the House. A slew of lobbyists with strong ties are advocates, but opposition still remains.

Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said sports betting is considered Class III gaming under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and said if the Kolkhurst bill succeeds, it would open the state up to tribal casinos.

“For me, who’s been doing this (lobbying the legislature against expanded gambling), I don’t think this is a guess,” Kohler said.