Texas lawmakers pre-filed Monday hundreds of House and Senate bills that they hope to pass in next year’s legislative session. Among them is SJR 17: under the constitutional amendment, proposed by Houston Democratic Sen. Carol Alvarado, voters could choose whether to legalize casinos and sports betting.
Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have been reluctant in the past to defy religious conservatives opposed to expanded gambling. However, they are now under intense pressure to consider jobs and new tax revenue that liberalization of Texas’ strict wagering laws could produce, reports The Dallas Morning News.
Under Alvarado’s proposal, the Legislature could decide on whether to legalize sports betting, and a newly created Texas Gaming Commission could issue up to four licenses for destination resorts, with minimum investments of $2 billion in the Dallas and Houston regions; plus smaller-scale casinos at existing horse and dog racetracks, and Indian gaming facilities. The bill calls for taking the revenue and taxes from gambling and putting them towards education and public safety. However, once discussions start, that can always be altered.
The Texas legislative session will commence on Jan. 10, 2023, and concludes on May 29, 2023. The bar for a constitutional amendment to be enacted in Texas is high. The expansion would become effective if the constitutional amendment is approved by a two-thirds majority of the legislature, and by state voters at the Nov. 7, 2023 election.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Details in the pre-filed bill are scarce, with the document failing to clarify issues such as whether sports betting would be allowed on a retail basis, online, or both. As for casino gaming, Alvarado’s bill sets a 10% tax rate on gross gaming revenue for table games, and a 25% tax rate on gross gaming revenue for slot machines. The sports betting tax rate has yet to be defined.
The introduction of a legal gambling and sports betting bill even before the session has begun is welcomed news for expansion proponents. Given the legislature did not meet in 2022, next year will be an important one on the road to potential legalization. However, large obstacles stand in the way of legal gambling, most notably the religious right, which holds a large political sway in the state.
Still, gambling proponents received good news last month when a report surfaced that Abbott would be willing to change his long-held opposition stance against legalization. Abbott, who once was “wholeheartedly” against any such expansion in Texas, would now listen to proposals.
“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” said last month Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, as reported by Houston Chronicle. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”