AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A big player in Texas politics threw his support behind legalizing sports betting on Thursday, as policymakers are already drafting related legislation before returning to the Austin Capitol in January.
Former Republican Gov. Rick Perry announced Thursday he’ll be joining the Texas Sports Betting Alliance as a spokesperson, pushing for the Lone Star State to join the 35 other states that have already legalized mobile sports betting.
“The legalization of mobile sports betting in Texas would mean implementing smart and efficient oversight to preserve the integrity of sporting events, empower Texans to safely participate in mobile sports betting, and fight illegal gambling,” Perry said in a press release. “Given that Texans are already participating in mobile sports betting, legalization would be a win for all involved.”
Both online sports betting and casinos are illegal in Texas — with the exception of three casinos operating legally on Native American territory in the Lone Star State due to federal law. Despite casino-lobbying groups pouring millions of dollars into policymakers’ pockets in recent years, state lawmakers failed to move forward on legalizing either during the 2021 legislative session.
Advocates hope Perry’s endorsement will help further push the needle.
“We have a lot of good momentum going into this session, just based on the work we were doing before Governor Perry even joined our team,” said Cara Gustafson, spokesperson for the Texas Sports Betting Alliance.
Gustafson said Texans are already placing an estimated $8.7 billion in illegal bets through offshore betting websites. If legalized, the alliance estimates Texas would generate upward of $556 million per biennium.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has previously said it’s not enough money to consider legalizing online sports betting, but advocates say consumers are being hurt as long as the state isn’t regulating it.
“These offshore betting sites — there’s no safeguards for your private and financial information. You’re putting all of your information out there and at risk of getting stolen.”
Opponents of betting legislation have raised concerns about gambling addictions and the social consequences of gambling. Earlier on the campaign trail, Gov. Greg Abbott expressed openness to at least legalizing casinos, but with limitations.
“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, told the Houston Chronicle. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”
Geoff Zochodne, a reporter for Covers.com — a sports betting company — said the legalization of sports betting would be huge for the state.
“If Texas were to launch some form of legal sports betting, it would be huge, because then you could potentially have a team like the Dallas Cowboys, which is beloved, not just in Texas, but by fans all over the US, all over the world…having the ability to integrate sports betting…you could start seeing ads popping up around AT&T [Center]” said Geoff Zochodne.
State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said she feels confident about her legislation making it across the finish line during this legislative session, especially after garnering more bipartisan support. The senator already filed a resolution this week that would allow for casino gambling in Texas. If her constitutional amendment passes and is approved by voters, and Alvarado says help “foster economic development and job growth,” and establish the Texas Gaming Commission.
“It’s long past time that we let voters decide whether Texas should legalize gaming. Texans spend an estimated $5 billion each year on gaming in other states,” Alvarado said. “Legalizing casino gaming would not only bring this revenue back into Texas, but it would also create tens of thousands of permanent jobs in Texas and potentially hundreds of thousands of immediate construction jobs.”