Barn painted like the Texas flag

Considering it is the birthplace of the most popular form of poker in the world, Texas’ record on gambling is quite convoluted. Currently, the state does not allow for any type of gambling – officially – although there has been an influx of poker “clubs” throughout the Lone Star State. Looking forward to 2023, a Texas legislator is looking to change gaming laws, but not for poker – this legislator wants to go for full casino gaming and sports betting.

Casino Gaming and Sports Betting on the Table?

Last week, Texas State Senator Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) filed the first bill that would allow for full casino gaming and sports betting to be offered in the state. This resolution, SJR 17, would authorize casino gaming and sports betting under the auspices of the newly created Texas Gaming Commission. But this isn’t the first time at the rodeo for Senator Alvarado.

Alvarado has been suggesting this change to Texas law in every session since 2009. Considering that the Texas Legislature only meets every other year, that means there have been six prior efforts by Alvarado to get this idea passed. It is problematic because it would take a two-thirds majority vote of the entire Texas Legislature and would have to pass, by a simple majority, a referendum of the Texas voters.

Alvarado has put a great deal of thought into how much casino gaming and sports betting would work in the state. The senator is looking to establish four resort-style casinos that will be located within metro areas that have over two million in population. This would mean Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and perhaps Austin would be eligible to open facilities.

The horse and greyhound tracks would not be left out of the equation. Three licenses would be available for the horse tracks, while two would be available for the existing greyhound facilities. Additionally, Indian tribes that are recognized by the Department of the Interior, which handles tribal gaming, would also be allowed to open casinos on tribal territory.

Could 2023 Be the Year?

In addition to Alvarado’s work, there have been prior efforts to get some sort of gaming passed in the state of Texas. A sports betting bill failed in 2021, but the landscape has changed in the last year-plus. A look around the state demonstrates this point.

Many locations throughout Texas have opened local poker “clubs” that have skirted the grey area of gaming in the state. Because they are “membership clubs,” legal experts believe that they are operating legally in many locations throughout the state. That has not stopped law enforcement and local District Attorneys from trying to shut these sites down, as a recent raid in Dallas demonstrated.

There have been alliances between gaming companies and popular sports franchises in Texas also. The 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros have a partnership deal with BetMGM, with branding around the state. Several owners of professional franchises, such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, have also advocated for the passage of laws legalizing gaming and sports betting in the state.

The recently re-elected Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has also apparently softened his stance regarding gaming expansion. Once vehemently against such activities, a spokesperson for Abbott has said that “if it could be done professionally” he would look at it. Of course, it wouldn’t be because he has received massive campaign contributions from various gaming interests inside and outside the state.

Is this the year that Alvarado gets some movement on casino gaming and sports betting in the Lone Star State? Will the Texas Legislature move on to the poker “clubs” that are already operating in the open? Or will Abbott continue to drop the hammer against gaming interests, kowtowing to his religious base and against business interests? 2023 promises to be an interesting year for Texans and their pursuit of a square game.

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