When the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize sports betting in the state last week, there was a sense of excitement that finally, finally, residents of one of the largest states in the country would be able to place wagers on games. Not so fast. On Saturday, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick nixed the entire idea, saying that he won’t refer the legislation to a Senate committee.
As Lieutenant Governor, Patrick also serves as president of the Senate. Unfortunately for betting fans, with that position comes the power to assign bills to committees, something that is not the case in most states. And Patrick is using this power to stop HB1942 in its tracks.
“I’ve said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP,” Patrick tweeted on Saturday. “I polled members this week. Nothing changed. The senate must focus on issues voters expect us to pass. We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support. HB1942 won’t be referred.”
Depending on one’s level of cynicism, that tweet can be interpreted in two ways. The “benefit of the doubt” interpretation is that because legalizing sports betting would require a constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds support in both chambers. Republican senators outnumber Democrats 19-12, so even if all Democrats were to support the bill (this is not necessarily the case, mind you), it would still need a solid proportion of Republican votes. Patrick could simply be saying that he doesn’t see a path to passage, so he’s not going to “waste time” with it.
The more cynical interpretation is that when saying, “We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support,” Patrick is playing politics with no regard for what the people do or do not want. If Republicans don’t support the bill, or alternatively, if it would be seen as a “Democrat” bill, then Patrick wants no part of it.
There were really two bills passed by the House. HJR102 was the one that actually needed a two-thirds vote, as it would have put the question of sports betting legalization on the November ballot, to be voted on by Texas residents. That one received bipartisan support, passing with 101 out of a possible 150 votes in the heavily Republican House.
HB1942 was the more technical bill, decriminalizing sports betting and laying out various regulations. It only needed majority support, getting 82 “aye” votes.
With sports betting dead in Texas this year, the next chance isn’t until 2025, as the Texas legislature only meets every other year.