Legislators are considering two bills that would legalize sports betting in Texas. So far, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the progress of measures in the Senate, says the bills don’t have enough support to pass.
The state’s 11 professional sports franchises support the bills, and are lobbying lawmakers on their behalf. Sports leagues once opposed gambling on their games, but have now embraced its financial benefits.
John Moritz covers the Texas Capitol for the USA Today Austin bureau. He told Texas Standard that Patrick is waiting for the bills to gain more Republican support before advancing them. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Which sports betting bills are we talking about here? What are the ones that pro sports teams seem to support?
John Moritz: There are basically two bills and they’re reasonably identical – one in the House, one in the Senate. I don’t think it’s much of a secret that either one would be acceptable to the sports franchise owners and executives who are pushing for it. Each bill is carried by a Republican, and a fairly influential Republican. But the problem is, in the Senate, not enough Republicans are on board to persuade Dan Patrick to kind of help bring it over the line.
Let’s talk specifically about what these bills would do.
It would basically allow Texas players to play sports bets. Close to half the states already have something like this. So the team executives are basically saying, “why cut our fans out of the action that can take place in all these other states?” And probably the dirty little secret is, is that many Texas players are placing those bets. They’re just finding a way around it.
When you say “Texas players,” you’re talking about gamblers – people who want to bet, right?
Why do sports teams care so much about Texas gamblers being able to place their bets in Texas?
The most logical answer is there’s a lot of money in this. A lot of it goes to these organizations like DraftKings and some of the others, which do have partnerships with many of the professional sports leagues.
When you have 11 chief executives of 11 pro sports franchises in Texas coming together to lobby and to write an open letter to state leaders calling for this, there must be some kind of pecuniary interests that they have.
Yes, they do. Many sports teams do have partnerships with these gaming companies. If you watch the MLB network or NFL or some of the others, you’re going to see commercials for DraftKings and some of the others extolling the virtues of their games and your chances to win should you decide to play. So if it’s good for these enterprises, it’s good for the partnerships that are formed.
Teams weren’t always on this side of the debate. What are the arguments against sports betting and why the change of heart?
We can go back years and maybe even decades where gambling has tainted sports, whether it was point shaving in the NBA and college basketball, maybe in the 50s and 60s to the very well-chronicled travails of Pete Rose.
Now with the advent of online gaming and some of the security measures that they can put in, I think the sports people realize now that this is going to be happening and they might as well get a little bit of that, I don’t want to say action, but that’s probably it.
Briefly, what happens next?
Enough Republicans in the Texas Senate have to basically either inform the lieutenant governor or the bill author that, “yes, we would vote for this should it come up.” And that might move the needle as far as the lieutenant governor is concerned. But obviously, the Legislature is dominated by Republicans. Many Democrats support this thing. Dan Patrick doesn’t necessarily want it to look like the Democrats are driving the train in the Senate. He wants to make sure that it’s a Republican-supported measure, as well, before he’s going to push it ahead.