Online sports betting legislation might be on the table in Texas this year and professional sports teams could be the gatekeepers to the sector.
According to multiple sources, LSR understands the Texas Governor’s Office has reached out to lobbyists and regulators in states like New Jersey for advice on the best way to legalize sports betting.
“Something is going to happen in Texas,” said Bill Pascrell III, a lobbyist with the Princeton Public Affairs Group. “It’s complicated because there’s no gaming culture and nothing definitive yet. But the governor is interested and the legislature is interested.”
Sources indicate the TX sports betting effort is backed by influential team owners including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, and Tilman Fertitta of the Houston Rockets.
How would Texas sports betting plan work?
One plan being floated would see 14 to 20 licenses available for the state’s professional sports teams and handful of horse racing tracks in Texas. In essence, the teams would be the equivalent of casinos in a gaming state like New Jersey, in that they can sell access to bookmaking partners.
A draft bill is currently being written and will need a sponsor before making it to the legislative floor.
That could happen over the next week as the Texas legislative session begins.
Long road ahead for TX sports betting
Texas historically profiles as one of the more unlikely states to legalize sports betting, given its conservative roots. Any changes to the state’s gambling laws also require a constitutional amendment.
However, the state, like many others, faces a budget deficit because of the coronavirus pandemic. And the support of influential figures like Jones, Fertitta, and Cuban could be a decisive factor.
All three team owners have some links with gambling. Fertitta owns Golden Nugget, while Jones had a stake in DraftKings as of May this year.
Meanwhile, Cuban is an investor in esports betting platform Unikrn. The Mavericks owner also famously said the repeal of PASPA doubled the value of sports franchises overnight.
The proposals call for online betting but could also see betting kiosks in Texas stadiums.
Opposition on the horizon
As opportunities go, Texas is a big one. The state is the second largest in the US by population and 13th richest, by GDP per capita. In other words it is as wealthy as Illinois, but more than twice the size.
Illinois is already the fourth largest US betting market by handle, despite only going live last year.
But Texas being Texas, there is no shortage of potential opposition to the plans, including colleges and Oklahoma tribes who currently attract gamblers from across the border.
Matters are further complicated by the potential legalization of casino gambling in the state. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $4.5 million before his death to help Republicans keep control of the Texas House in 2020.
His company Las Vegas Sands is reportedly eyeing resort casinos in Texas and could also try to be cut into sports betting.
As Pascrell points out, there are plenty of roadblocks before Texas sports betting is a reality. The fact that there’s a chance shows how far the industry has come, though.
Would sports leagues be on board?
The idea of a sports team as license holders, perhaps unthinkable two years ago, is not so far-fetched.
The recent Virginia sports betting law, for example, offers a license for the Washington Football Team or another professional franchise, should it relocate to the state.
Leagues have lobbied in the past for legally enforceable ways to make money from sports betting, usually via integrity fees. That suggests they might allow teams to be licensees.