Texas Gambling: State lawmakers consider gaming bills in 88th session

New bills filed in the 88th legislative session could mean big bucks and big bets if they are signed into law.
Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 7:15 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - As lawmakers work in Austin, some Texans are hoping the 88th legislature will be their lucky session, where multiple gambling and sports betting bills have been filed.

The new bills would open the door for casinos in Bexer, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston and Harris counties. They would also create a new Texas gaming commission and allow for retail sports betting.

Lubbock state Rep. Carl Tepper says he’s against the filings.

“If you legalize gambling in Texas, there’s always some sort of regulation that has to happen,” Tepper said. “Which means state agents, state bureaucracies - and I just don’t know why we would want to deal with all that infrastructure when you can just take a direct flight from Lubbock to Las Vegas anyway.”

In terms of revenue, Tepper says Texas’ more than $30 billion surplus shows the state is fiscally on the right track, and revenue from casinos and sports books have not been a saving grace for any state.

“If gambling were pennies from heaven, then New Mexico and New Jersey wouldn’t be bankrupt,” Tepper said. “It hasn’t been the end all be all of income for any state.”

While some believe legalization and regulation would create revenue and reduce crime from illegal gambling, Tepper says he’d like to see laws with tighter language against the gaming industry, including game rooms that operate throughout Lubbock County.

“I think I would rather go the other way and tighten up the definition of these game rooms to be illegal gambling casinos,” Tepper said. “I think that language needs to be tightened up and leave no question that these places are illegal and should be shut down.”

Whether those laws are changed or not, managing editor at PlayTexas, Tyler Andrews, says history has proven that Texans will find a way to place their bets.

“The fact is, Texans are just, they’re sports-crazed,” Andrews said.

Andrews says laws have been in place for years, but the gaming hasn’t stopped. It’s simply become a revenue stream for other states and illegal offshore sports betting.

“Sports betting is happening in Texas. Gambling is happening in Texas,” Andrews said. “It’s just happening illegally, or Texans are going out of state and gambling elsewhere.”

According to PlayTexas, the state stood to make more than $200 million in revenue on Super Bowl bets alone this year, leaving the state checking its pockets for money created here and spent somewhere else.

“Most of the work that’s been done to look at illegal sports betting that’s taking place in Texas shows that it’s already in the billions of dollars in terms of Texans betting in offshore sports books,” Andrews said.

While Texas is fortunate to have a sizable surplus this session, Andrews says the biggest problem with that extra money is that It will run out eventually, while cash flow from the gaming industry would remain consistent.

“These revenue streams, while small, are reliable and they might be good to have on a rainy day,” Andrews said. “We might regret it in a few years if property taxes continue to go up and we don’t have a blanket surplus and we’ve given up on sports betting or casino gambling.”

Still, Rep. Tepper says at a roots level, bringing the gaming industry to Texas could put a burden on families.

“If you’re already having a hard time paying your property taxes or paying your rent, you’re certainly not going to gain that money back by going to the casino,” Tepper said. “I think it’d be a net negative all the way around.”

Any bills that are passed this session will still need to be approved by vote in November.