Texas Wants to Know: When will sports betting be legalized?

Online sports betting
Online sports betting Photo credit (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Super Bowl LVII is just over a week away, but Texas residents won't be able to place bets on the game -- at least not legally.

Some state lawmakers are working to change that, but they could face political hurdles just to get their bills to a floor vote.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) has filed SJR 17, which would create a Texas Gaming Commission and allow for legalized casino gambling in the state, while a yet-to-be-introduced bill will focus more specifically on sports betting.

"The argument from the online sports gambling group is that this gambling is already going on. This will allow us to regulate it and maybe even squeeze out some illegal gambling," SMU political science professor Cal Jillson said. "The people that oppose it have always said, well, 'how does this square with social conservatism and traditional values?' You know, we spend all of our time thinking about sex education, abortion, transgender rights, all of those kinds of things. And here we've got sports gambling, which traditional conservatives have long opposed. And so why would we do this at this time?"

The group that is backing a bill that would focus primarily on sports wagering is called the Texas Sports Betting Alliance. They think the momentum is there for sports betting in the state, especially as dozen of others begin to legalize it.

"If it doesn't happen this year, it will happen in 2025. The conversation is not going to stop," Texas Sports Betting Alliance spokesperson Cara Gustafson said. "And Texas has an opportunity to be a leader in sports betting. Our bill alone has the most consumer protections of any legislation of the other 35 states, and that's because we've taken this time in between 2021 and 2023 to see what worked in other states, to see what we can improve here."

Alvarado's bill would allow for four resort-style casinos -- one in each of Texas' largest metropolitan areas.

"My intent with this, it's more than just about having a casino and having gambling in our state. But it's to create jobs," she said. "It's to diversify our economy. Over 180,000 jobs would be created from the construction development and then ongoing jobs over 70,000. So we're talking a lot more than just casinos. It would have to be a hotel component, restaurants and shops, a venue for conferences and conventions and an entertainment complex."

Robert Kohler, a lobbyist and consultant for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist Convention of Texas said he thinks gambling just isn't high on the list of priorities for Texas voters or lawmakers.

"Until you see people that are, you know, running for office, when they're at the rotary clubs or their community centers, until you see people standing up and saying, 'Hey, send me to Austin. And when you send me there, I'm going to vote for casino gambling,' or 'I'm about for sports waving.' And you just don't see that," he said.

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