By almost the narrowest possible margin, the Texas House passed a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting by a vote of 101 to 42. Constitutional amendments require the approval of two-thirds of each chamber and a majority of Texas voters.
House Joint Resolution (HJR) 102 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) is the constitutional amendment that would set up a legal sports betting market. Leach centered his closing argument on “freedom and liberty” as he did when he presented the bill to the House State Affairs Committee, calling it the “perfect opportunity to prove” to Texans that lawmakers are committed to those ideas. One million Texans are engaging in sports betting every year, Leach added.
The enabling bill passed by a vote of 82 to 51, which proposes the legislative changes necessary to bring the constitutional amendment into practical effect.
Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Farmers Branch) said she was “livid” that the bill did not originally include female sports; however, she said she changed her stance on the bill because Leach cooperated with her efforts to add women’s sports.
Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), the sister of San Antonio Spurs legend George Gervin, said places like San Antonio “need this type of revenue stream.”
One opponent was Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), who said, “I’m not a ‘no.’ I’m not a ‘not now.’” He said the chamber should “spend some time to get it right.”
Leach said the Legislature should create a regulatory framework to protect people who are already engaging in gambling.
Opponents of legalizing sports wagering also weighed in, including those who fear it will lead to increased addiction.
The initial vote was 100 to 42, giving the bill exactly the number of votes it needed to pass. However, the chamber proceeded with vote verification, a procedure often employed when a vote is close. During the verification, Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) was not present and his vote of aye was removed from the board.
Though they were absent from the first vote, Reps. Terri Wilson (R-Marble Falls) and Hubert Vo (D-Houston) voted aye during the verification. As Wilson approached the dais to cast his vote, a member asked him how he was voting, to which he quipped, “I want y’all to start a gambling pool.”
The final vote on the sports wagering constitutional amendment was a gain of nine aye votes from second reading.
The chamber then postponed the constitutional amendment for casinos and proceeded with the enabling bill by Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) on second reading. It was passed to engrossment by a vote of 63 to 49 with an amendment to include language to provide for gambling compacts with the Alabama Coushatta Tribe and the Tiguas in El Paso.
Opponents reiterated their concerns about public health and safety. Rep. Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth) suggested the bill’s provision for public safety funding is a concession that it will result in more human trafficking.
Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) joked that the House should pass a motion to identify Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) as Presbyterian so he could vote for the bill. Ashby is Southern Baptist, a denomination that fiercely opposes gambling expansion each session.
The proposal for a constitutional amendment for casinos, HJR 155, was postponed again until 12:00 p.m. on Friday. The legislation passed to engrossment Wednesday by a vote of 92 to 51.
Citing public support for bringing commercial casinos to the state, Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) argued lawmakers should submit the issue to voters. Geren also pointed to the tax revenue that Texas could reap by capturing dollars that are otherwise flowing to casinos in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and other states.
Opponents say gambling has detrimental social costs, including addiction and reliance on public assistance. They also fear the impact on the state’s few Native American tribes.
Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) stood emphatically against the bill, saying domestic violence would go “vertical” and it would enable human trafficking. Shaheen said the legislation is destined for failure in the Texas Senate.
Rep. Eddie Morales Jr. (D-Eagle Pass) told his colleagues HJR 155 would “decimate” the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas by creating unfair competition with a commercial casino in San Antonio.
Rep. Richard Hayes (R-Denton) objected to the Legislature creating another bureaucracy for the purpose of regulating the gambling industry. Hayes contended it is not the proper role of government.
Efforts of out-of-state interests are seeking to make casinos more palatable to lawmakers and the public. Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands whose late husband was prominent businessman Sheldon Adelson, cut a $1 million check to Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection effort. Abbott’s office stated in October the governor would be open to mulling “very professional” casino gambling, though he listed several concerns, including addiction and reliance on welfare.
Federally-recognized Native American tribes have been ensnared in conflict with the State of Texas over its objection to the tribes regulating their own gambling activities. Last summer, one of the state’s three tribes, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo or Tiguas, won a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that protected its ability to offer electronic bingo, which they contended they had the right to do under federal law. The high court’s decision reversed a decades-old decision by the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
One of the constitutional exceptions to the gambling ban is the Texas Lottery, which has reported record-setting sales in recent years. When casinos and sports betting were considered in committee, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) reminded lawmakers that while the lottery was pitched as a source of education funding, it is not the panacea some thought it would be.
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