Why Texas isn’t chasing sports betting money

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Football is America’s favorite sport. Betting on football is our favorite pastime.   

Billions of dollars will change hands on college and NFL games over the next five months — most of it illegally. But that could soon change.

States are scurrying to set up betting operations after the Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting outside Nevada. 

But not Texas. 

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton all oppose the expansion of legalized gambling in Texas. But whether the men who occupy the biggest offices at the Capitol like it or not, Texans are betting on sports.

“The fact of the matter is this is happening,” a gambler named “Steve” told KXAN on the condition of anonymity. 

He has been betting on sports in Texas for 20 years. Usually $100-$500 a game. He places bets online, through a bookmaker, who is also in Texas. 

The American Gaming Association estimates sports betting, legal and otherwise, is a $150 billion industry. Others estimate it’s more like $60 billion — roughly what Americans spend on lottery tickets each year. The latest reports show the Texas Lottery contributed $1.3 billion to Texas schools last year. 

“Sports betting will be not unlike the other ‘good ideas’ that have come into the state,” Rob Kohler sarcastically says about the idea that sports betting could be a revenue stream similar to the lottery. 

Kohler is a lobbyist for the General Baptist Convention of Texas which represents nearly 3 million Texans. They not only oppose legalized gambling, they would like to repeal the lottery, too. 

They argue gambling, in any form, is a regressive tax that hits poor people the hardest — people who, in some cases, are already getting government assistance. 

“It’d make a sales tax blush with its regressivity. So, is it smart for us to fund our government with the folks that we’re giving money to help? No.”

Studies have shown that people in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to gamble than people in wealthier neighborhoods. 

Still, attitudes toward sports betting have changed, evidenced by the recent partnership between the NBA and casino giant MGM. But at the State Capitol, gambling has been a losing bet. 

Rep. Richard Pena Raymond, D-Laredo, has been the closest thing to a gambling “supporter” at the Capitol. He introduced a bill in 2017 that would have made fantasy sports games like DraftKings legal in Texas.   

But even Raymond is careful to draw a line between playing fantasy sports and betting on games. 

“It’s a relatively nuanced difference but it’s a big difference,” he says. 

Raymond plans to push for fantasy sports again next year. He expects someone will introducing a sports betting bill, but it won’t be him. 

“I’ll wait to see what it looks like.”

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