Bill Sponsor: Sports Betting Overdue in Texas

Texans are proud of going their own way; it’s a tradition in the Lone Star State. But when it comes to sports betting, state Rep. Dan Huberty (l.) thinks it's time that lawmakers followed the crowd.

Texas Rep. Dan Huberty began thinking about sports betting bill in 2018, after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports wagers. Today, he’s more inspired by the Gold Rush-type speed in which other states have embraced sports betting, and the potential money it could bring the state.

“Sports betting is legal in 25 other states, and 21 are trying to get it passed,” Huberty told GGB News. “You’ve got the ability to do it in Louisiana and Arkansas,” two states that border on Texas. By one estimate, sports fans in Texas wager already $5.6 billion on sports each year.

“You have people who are already gambling, but they’re doing it offshore,” said Huberty. “So our view of the world is that it’s been ruled as legal by the Supreme Court. It’s already happening, and it’s something we should collect a fee for. My plan is for revenues to be dedicated towards special education.”

Huberty has a particular interest in special education funding, as his son is dyslexic; he believes revenues from sports betting could help fund programs for children in need. “It’s important to identify who those kids are.”

Big State, Big Fans

By any definition, Texans are sports fans. There are 13 professional teams in the state, and numerous college teams. With 29 million people, Texas is the second largest state by population. Many of them would like to place legal bets on their favorite teams.

Huberty’s House Bill 2070 would be tied to a joint resolution (H.J.R. 97) to put a measure to amend the state constitution before the voters in November. It’s phrased as “the constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to legalize sports wagering in this state.” A companion bill in the Senate is being carried by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa. This is a bipartisan effort: Huberty is a Republican and Hinojosa a Democrat.

If passed, the legislation would open up a huge sports betting market and create a framework for the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, San Diego Spurs and other pro sports teams to partner with sportsbooks and bring the wagers inside arenas. The ownership groups of the Cowboys, Mavs and Rangers are all part of the Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition of franchises and sportsbooks pushing for legal bets. BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel are also members.

Racetracks including Lone Star Park, Retama Park and Sam Houston Race Park would also be able to offer sportsbooks (Penn National Gaming owns Sam Houston, so it would have an entry into sports betting that way).

Roadblocks Ahead

There are obstacles in the way. For decades in Texas politics, there’s been a built-in inertia against any kind of gaming expansion. Most forms of gambling are banned by the constitution, with the exception of bingo, the Texas Lottery—added in the 1990s—and horse and greyhound racing. Amending the constitution would require passage of a bill by two-thirds of both legislative chambers, then a “yes” vote by the people.

In February, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Lubbock radio station KFYO that he doesn’t see support for sports betting in the Texas Senate, which he presides over, or among Republican voters. “It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session,” Patrick said. “We are nowhere close to having the votes for it.”

But Huberty believes the people are ready. A recent poll by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler showed that 43 percent of Texans approve of legal sports betting, with 26 percent opposed and 31 percent had no opinion.

“There’s a tremendous amount of support and a lot of interest,” Huberty said. “We have the lottery and racing, we already have gambling in these areas. This would allow betting for people who don’t necessarily want to go to a casino. And there is 100 percent support from the sports teams. Every major sports team is behind it. Our view is simply to let the voters decide.”

How much money could sports betting raise in tax revenues? “Initially, about $150 million a year, and it could go up from there,” said Huberty.

Despite Texas’s traditional resistance to a gaming expansion, Huberty thinks he can pass his bill this session. “I tell people, open up the newspaper to the sports section and you can get the line above the story. Why do they publish the line if people aren’t already gambling?”

As Cowboys Executive Vice President Charlotte Jones has said, “Unregulated and illegal sports gambling is already taking place in the state of Texas. Legalized sports betting would regulate the industry and generate hundreds of millions of dollars of new revenue for the state, which will help fund critical programs without raising taxes.”

Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal liberty, Huberty contends. “Texans believe in their liberties and freedom. I’m asking my colleagues to give people the chance to vote. That’s all I’m asking people to do.”

“Our mantra is, ‘Don’t bet against us.’ This is a good opportunity to get this done.”