Posted on: April 14, 2023, 03:22h.
Last updated on: April 14, 2023, 04:49h.
Proposals to expand gambling in Texas are slowly moving forward in the state legislature but state politics experts say there are many stumbling blocks ahead.
Bills have been introduced that would leave it to the voters to decide whether the state should have a limited number of destination casinos and the ability to wager on sporting events.
One bill, HJR (House Joint Resolution) 102, which would legalize sports wagering, already was approved by the House State Affairs Committee.
But [it] faces an uncertain future on the Texas House floor, where HJR 102 needs the support of two-thirds of the representatives for passage,” Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, recently told Casino.org.
In charge of the House chamber is Speaker Dade Phelan (R), who has voiced some support for increased gambling.
Patrick in Control
Even if the legislation gets the mandated approval of two-thirds of House members, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who oversees the Senate chamber, and his Senate Republican colleagues may reject bills in that chamber, Jones said.
Unless I have 15 to 16 Republicans, meaning it’s a Republican-driven bill because we’re a Republican-driven state, I’m not bringing a bill to the floor,” Patrick further told Texas TV station KXAN. “I need Republican consensus otherwise, it’s a Democrat bill.”
Patrick is described as “the biggest traffic cop for legislation expanding gambling,” according to University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “Unless he sees support in the Senate, it won’t matter how far the legislation goes in the House,” Rottinghaus recently told Casino.org.
The House State Affairs Committee approved two gambling-related bills earlier this month. One was HJR 155, authored by Representative Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), and the second is HB 2843, authored by Representative John Kuempel (R-Seguin). The bills would let voters in the state decide whether to expand gambling in Texas. The committee votes were 9-3, with Republican members being opposed, The Texas Tribune reported.
Opposition by Republican senators is credited to either a belief that social costs of gambling outweigh revenue benefits, and/or future blowback in the upcoming 2024 or 2026 Republican primaries from Evangelical Christian groups who are against gambling legislation, especially HJR 97, Jones said.
“Unless at least 15 or 16 of the 19 Texas Republican state senators are willing to vote in favor of gambling, both sports betting as contained in HJR 102 and casino gambling as contained in HJR 97, Patrick will use his control over the Senate agenda to keep the bills from reaching the floor for a roll call vote,” Jones added.
Like in the House, two-thirds of that chamber would need to vote for the legislation before it could be sent to voters for a referendum. Jones suspects the passage of sports betting should be easier to achieve than the passage of casino gambling.
Horse Trade Possible
There is a possibility that Republican Senators will back casino gambling legislation as part of a “broader horse trade,” Jones said.
Under such a deal, some House Republicans would support, and some House Democrats acquiesce, to the passage of school choice legislation in exchange for support of gambling bills, Jones added.
Patrick is among the Republicans who support school choice expansion.
Compromise is Difficult
Compromises may be hard to achieve in the current legislative session.
House and Senate divisions on several bills will complicate compromise on this bill. Expanded gambling legislation could be a victim of personality divides between the chambers,” Rottinghaus said.
Earlier this month, Patrick said the Senate has “zero support” for gambling expansion, KXAN reported. Yet, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Houston), is sponsoring SJR (Senate Joint Resolution) 39, a constitutional amendment to let Texans wager on sports.
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