It’s been almost three years since the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (1992) (PASPA) and in so doing, effectively placed the choice of whether or not to legalize sports betting into the hands of the state legislatures. The move came as a result of impassioned campaigning from New Jersey’s former Governor Chris Christie, and when change came about, it was obvious that New Jersey and certain other states like Pennsylvania and Delaware would get the wheels in motion to legalize as quickly as possible.
Industry commentators predicted that within five years, 32 states would have legal sports betting frameworks in place, and that seems set to become a reality, with 21 already on board in half that time. The Lone Star State is seen as an outside shot to be counted among them, but the changing legal and social attitudes towards gambling have turned this into a debate that is about more than just sports betting.
Casinos and sportsbooks
Even before the world-changing events of 2020, gambling was, like so many things in the modern world, becoming a pastime that was increasingly pursued online. The temporary closure of land-based facilities last year only accelerated that trend, and this has led to a blurring of the lines between sports betting and casino gaming. In short, most new betting platforms tend to offer both, and in a bid to retain market share, there is a trend towards established casino sites opening sportsbooks and vice versa.
Will the dominos fall?
Legalization is, as expected, spreading like wildfire among the Democrat strongholds. However, a trend that has appeared in areas like New England is that when one state legalizes, its immediate neighbors tend to follow suit. While the GOP faithful has, to date, given short shrift to the idea of legislative reform in Texas, that same domino effect will inevitably start to be felt.
New Mexico Governor Grisham was keen to get on board at the earliest opportunity, and Louisiana is expected to follow suit this year. With gambling also legal in Arkansas, Texas is looking increasingly like it is out on a limb. The tax dollars are also a factor that cannot be ignored. You need only look at states like Pennsylvania, where the gambling infrastructure is now reasonably mature to see the millions generated every month. And even with the free giveaways like free spins and no deposit bonuses that are offered by dozens of gambling sites, the industry has managed to remain highly profitable when so many others have struggled over the past 12 months.
What would it take?
Supporters of gambling reform in Texas are well aware of what they are up against, but there is a feeling of change in the air. They have some influential support in the shape of the
Las Vegas Sands empire, which has Texas firmly in the crosshairs of its ambitious expansion plans.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who heads up the State Senate, has expressed skepticism that there is the necessary support to progress the significant changes that would be necessary through the legislative process. However, Andy Abboud, the Senior VP in charge of government relations at Sands is optimistic that with a 60-strong team of lobbyists, it will be feasible to file meaningful legislation over the coming weeks.
Sands is not the only high-profile advocate for gambling reform in Texas. Last month, the Dallas Morning News reported on the efforts of some of the city’s major sports teams to lobby for the legalization of sports betting in the Lone Star State. These included the likes of the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Mavericks.
Both the casino and sports betting camps need one another. The nation’s sports franchises have the big bucks, the high profile and the widespread support of Texans across the state. But ultimately, they need the fiscal advantages that a Sands casino would bring in terms of revenue and jobs in order to present a compelling case that stands a realistic chance of gaining support in the upper chamber.
Patrick has made it very clear that to make meaningful progress, the gambling lobbyists need to “sell it on tourism and jobs.” Abboud says he has taken the point on board, and this is why he is building “a big coalition” with the sports community to maximize all the benefits that legalization can bring and communicate these effectively and with a united front.
Whether gambling legislation will make meaningful progress in this session remains a matter of conjecture. But now that the discussion is happening, there is a growing sense that it is more a question of when, not if, the Texas domino will fall and legal gambling will become a reality.