Current prohibitions on casinos and sports wagering will remain in place until at least 2023 unless Gov. Greg Abbott chooses to task the legislature with loosening gambling laws during a special session.
The Texas Constitution bans lotteries and gift enterprises except under a limited number of circumstances, such as for bingo at church socials or professional sports teams conducting charitable raffles.
Casino bills and sports wagering legislation were not a priority for either Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, or Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).
In fact, Patrick had all but foreclosed the possibility as early as February when he said gambling expansion was “not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session.”
The lieutenant governor contended that there were too many “competing interests” to untangle for the legislation to see movement.
Patrick sent the Senate proposals to create a sports wagering program — Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 39 and Senate Bill (SB) 736 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen) — to the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, where they never went any further.
On the other side of the capitol, Phelan referred the House versions of the legislation, House Bill (HB) 2070 and House Joint Resolution (HJR) 97, to the House State Affairs Committee, which is led by Chairman Chris Paddie (R-Marshall).
One of the primary authors of HB 2070 and HJR 97, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), appeared in House State Affairs and articulated his viewpoint that legal sports wagering would provide new streams of tax revenue for the state’s coffers.
Huberty also contended that the liberty of Texans to engage in sports wagering should be prioritized over concerns about the possible social consequences, which he argued already exist via an illegal sports betting market and out-of-state gambling.
“I think we need a legal framework to protect our citizens who are doing this,” Huberty said.
After Huberty’s testimony and the remarks of several opponents of the legislation, the committee left HB 2070 and HJR 97 pending and did not consider them again.
The House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize a limited number of casinos, HJR 133, but did not take testimony on the enabling legislation, HB 4237.
A representative of casino gambling company Las Vegas Sands Corp. appeared to testify in favor of the legislation. Sands hired 73 lobbyists to push for legalizing casinos during the regular session, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.
Sands ran millions of dollars worth of radio and television advertisements to get the public on board with placing the issue on the November ballot and to buy in to casinos themselves.
A number of other bills to allow a limited number of casinos, to establish a statewide gaming commission, and to enact measured legalization of eight-liner machines also did not see any movement in House and Senate committees.
The reasons for the failure of gambling bills to gain any momentum at all could range from a lack of a political mandate from leadership or their unpopularity with socially conservative interest groups such as Texas Values and the political arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Perhaps Abbott and Patrick wanted to avoid risking their political capital on a third-rail issue the year before both men face reelection bids. Lawmakers also may not have wanted to spend precious time on an issue with limited economic and political returns.
As Patrick contended and as Phelan pointed out toward the beginning of the session, while the tax revenue from expanding gambling would be notable, it would not come close to being an end-all solution to the state’s fiscal needs.
In the meantime, the state continues to enjoy the benefits of operating the Texas Lottery, which enjoyed record-breaking income during the coronavirus pandemic.
Paddie’s office did not respond to a request for comment.