Could Texas Spring a Sports Betting Surprise

As the rush to introduce legal sports betting markets throughout the US continues, one state could be set to spring a surprise in 2021. 

It seems that online sports betting might be on the table for legislators in the state of Texas this year, and it could be professional sports teams that play a major role in getting it over the line. 

There have been multiple reports that the office of the Texas Governor has been speaking to a number of regulators and industry lobbyists in states where sports betting is legal for advice on which would be the best approach to legalization in the southern state. 

As well as interest from the state Governor, there are also reports that the effort to push forward with sports betting is attracting support from key sports team owners, including Jerry Jones at the Dallas Cowboys, Tilman Fertitta of the Houston Rockets, and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. 

Tentative Outlines

Reports have indicated some tentative outlines for how sports betting in Texas might look. One plan that has been aired would involve between 14 and 20 licenses for sports betting licenses made available for the state’s sports teams, along with a selection of horse racetracks. The teams would then be able to operate effectively like casinos in gaming states that can sell sports betting access to partners. 

It has been reported that a draft bill is currently in the process of being written, and although it will require a sponsor before it gets to the legislative arena, that may happen in the next week or so as the new state legislative session opens. 

Tough Road Ahead

Texas doesn’t profile as one of the likelier states for legalization, given its roots as a pretty conservative part of the country. There would also be a requirement to pass a constitutional amendment if changes are to be made to the existing gambling laws. 

But Texas, like many other US territories, is in the situation of facing a huge budget deficit due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. And the public support of influential celebrity owners Jones, Fertitta, and Cuban could yet play a decisive role. In fact, all three owners have gambling links. Fertitta is the owner of the Golden Nugget, and Jones has a stake in sports betting operator DraftKings. Cuban has also invested in an esports betting site and once famously said that PASPA repeal effectively doubled sports franchises’ value overnight. 

Opportunities and Opposition

In terms of sports betting opportunities, there is no date that Texas represents a significant one. It is the second biggest in the US, judged on population, and the 13th richest, making it as wealthy as Illinois but with a significantly bigger potential market. Given that Illinois is already the fourth largest sports betting market in the US, there is clearly potential for Texas to improve on that. 

At the same time, there is considerable opposition in the state, not least from Texas colleges and from the Oklahoma tribes whose casinos venues attract gamblers from over the border. 

The issue is further complicated by the potential for casino legalization in the state. The late casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent heavily last year on helping Republicans retain control of the Texas House, and his company, Las Vegas Sands, is apparently keen on operating casino facilities in the state. If Las Vegas Sands is successful, they are likely to want a piece of the sports betting action. 

Despite the potential obstacles, the model for sports teams to be the main license holders for sports betting is an interesting one and could yet prove to be the driver for legalization in 2021. 

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