Battle over sports betting intensifies in Austin with bipartisan push

“I think it’s got a good shot,” senator says.

HOUSTON – A competitive match-up in Austin is heating up around mobile sports betting in Texas.

The business of sports betting through a mobile device in the Lone Star State has been viewed as an underdog by many, but it is very much alive, according to key players in Austin.

“I think it’s got a good shot,” said Carol Alvarado, Democratic State Senator from District 6 in Houston.

One of Alvarado’s colleagues across the aisle admits there is much more discussion on a bill that in previous sessions had been shut down.

“The talk this year is different because it’s actually being talked about,” said Republican State Senator Paul Bettencourt.

Dallas area Representative Jeff Leach presented his bill before the Committee on State Affairs in the House last week, making one point very clear in his opening statement, “Wagering on sports is here, and it’s here to stay,” said Leach.

As sports gaming has been legalized in several states in recent years, casinos have been partnering with legendary athletes and academy award-winning actors in pitching their betting apps in national ads.

However, in Texas, sports wagering has plenty of proponents as well as opponents.

“These are very difficult issues for a lot of different constituencies to come together on,” said Bettencourt in an interview with KPRC 2 Investigates.

In the minutes following Representative Leach’s presentation to the Committee on State Affairs, opposition from conservative groups lined up to counter the Republican’s bill.

“The commercialized sports betting industry severely harms children and will radically change the way that children consume sports, no matter what they promise and safeguards,” said Cindy Asmussen from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Another speaker against the bill spoke to the potential depletion of a gambler’s personal wealth.

“When somebody gambles away their last dollars that were supposed to feed or house their family, that company that made the money is not going to come to their rescue, it’s going to be the Texas taxpayers,” said Cindi Castilla of the Texas Eagle Forum.

However, elected officials say safety measures have been built in.

“There are protections included for minors and individuals who struggle with problem gaming and/or addictions something that we should and take very seriously,” said Leach.

However, those in favor of it in Austin say Texans will receive the biggest benefit because 98% of the state’s revenue will be earmarked for lower property taxes.

Which makes one wonder, what kind of numbers are they talking about?

“If legalized, Texas could generate $556 million dollars per biennium as the market matures,” said former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Perry is part of the Sports Betting Alliance, which includes all major professional teams in the state, as well as sportsbook operators outside of it.

Aside from property taxes relief, Perry says there is another benefit for those already betting, proper oversight which doesn’t exist surrounding billions wagered illegally every year.

“There is roughly $8.7 billion dollars in illegal bets placed in Texas through off-shore betting sites,” said Perry.

Surprisingly, one Houstonian and legendary sports gambler is against it.

“I’m not in favor of it in Texas because I think it punishes too many people,” said Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale.

Only KPRC 2 Investigates was with McIngvale in February 2022 when he made the largest wager in Super Bowl history on his mobile phone at a rest stop in Louisiana. Mack says the state has bigger issues to work on.

”Thirty states have legalized gambling and that is enough. We don’t need it in Texas, we’ve got better things to do,” said McIngvale.

However, what are the odds that the bill makes it through the legislature for Texans to vote on it in November?

“Well, you’ve had the governor say he’s open to it, the speaker has weighed-in on the bill that I have, which is the casino-style gambling and there is non-partisan support,” said Alvarado.

Bettencourt, who believes the process already is well into the third quarter, says it’s too early to tell with the Senate.

“Until the bills actually start having hearings, you can’t start handicapping the results,” said Bettencourt.

KPRC 2 Investigates will continue to monitor developments surrounding this bill as it moves through the capitol.

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Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.