Texas sports betting & casino bills advance in House but face make-or-break round

Texas House of Representatives
Image: Shutterstock

The Texas House of Representatives has given its initial approval to HJR102, a bill that would legalize online sports betting, but obstacles remain in its path.

The second reading resulted 97-44 in favor of the bill yesterday, but it must now accrue three further ‘yes’ votes in the third reading today to pass the 150-member chamber by the two-thirds vote required of constitutional amendments, before it can move over to the Senate.

Dissenters of the bill have cited the potential of human trafficking and domestic violence as by-products of sports betting, but HJR102 has the support of a number of professional sports teams through the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, including WBNA side the Dallas Wings.

Rep. Jeff Leach is carrying the House’s sports betting legislation, and he argues that legal sports betting would deter betting on illegal apps on phones and online.

“This is simply allowing what is currently taking place in the state of Texas to be done in a non-criminal, yet constitutional way,” said Leach, who remains hopeful the voting threshold can be reached in his favor.

However, while there is optimism on this front, the chance of the bill passing the Senate has been viewed as a long shot in many quarters.

Meanwhile, HJR155, a casino referendum that would allow a limited number of destination-resort style casinos in Texas, faces an even bleaker future, receiving 92 votes for and 55 votes against in the second reading on Wednesday.

The bill will get another chance in a third reading today but Rep. Charlie Geren must find another eight votes in support for it to make it to the Senate.

“We should let people vote,” said Geren, who told the House that residents are already gambling at casinos in bordering states, and that his proposal would bring in ‘thousands’ of jobs and add a new revenue stream for Texas. The measures include a 15% tax on gross casino gaming revenue that would go to education and public safety.

Geren’s bill would also allow for negotiations on a tribal-state compact to allow Texas’ three federally recognized tribes to operate casino-style games in the state.

The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas has previously expressed reservations over the current language of bills being proposed, but admitted that they were not fundamentally opposed to the idea of sports betting in the state.

However, the tribe has also said the casino bill doesn’t go far enough and would be financially devastating if they weren’t allowed to open a casino closer to San Antonio, where the majority of its customers that go to their Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel in Eagle Pass are from. An amendment addressing the tribe’s concerns was struck down by Rep. Tony Tinderholt.