Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, a former U.S. Congressman, for the first time has advocated for his state to legalize sports betting and casino gaming. During a press briefing in Dallas on Wednesday, O’Rourke called sports betting legislation “a very popular proposal” among Texans he’s meeting on the campaign trail.
According to FiveThirtyEight, O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, trails Republican incumbent Greg Abbott by as many as six points in some recent polls. Abbott originally was adamantly opposed to legalized gaming in Texas but has in recent years opened himself to the idea. Faced with opposition from many in his own party, Abbott still has not endorsed legislation on the issue, though in comments to gaming industry operators in 2020, the governor did not rule it out.
But in 2021, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told the Houston Chronicle that there was “no chance the Texas Senate would expand gaming operations.”
Many observers believe Texas is losing out on tax revenue from sports and casino gaming. O’Rourke seems to be in that camp, but the Republican-controlled state legislature has never even offered a bill to consider legalization. According to law, the Texas state constitution would need to be amended in order to allow statewide sports betting and casino operations outside of tribal lands.
In recent days, O’Rourke has criticized Abbott for the rising inflation and soaring property taxes in Texas. He cited sports betting and casino gaming tax revenue as one way to add money to the state budget, as opposed to relying heavily on property taxes to fund state programs.
Texans Support Casino Gaming, Split On Sports Betting
A poll by the Dallas Morning-News in March of 2022 indicated that 57% of Texans surveyed supported casino gaming, and 43% are in favor of sports betting in some form. Of those who did not respond in favor of legalized sports betting in the state, 14% said they had no opinion.
Neighboring states Arkansas and Louisiana have legal sports betting, as does Colorado, which is roughly 60 miles from the Texas border at the closest to the north. Those states have in recent months set revenue records for sports betting. Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are home to legalized casinos, which prompt some Texans to cross the border to enjoy the activity.
The only legal gaming in Texas occurs on tribal lands, such as the Lucky Eagle Casino operated by the Kickapoo in Eagle Pass, located near the U.S./Mexican border deep in the southwest of the state.
Largest Potential Betting Market In The U.S.?
With just under 30 million people, Texas is the second-largest state by population. It has three of the nine largest metropolitan areas in the United States: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. Texans are famous for their love of football, both college and professional. Advocates for legal sports betting feel that Texas could become one of the top markets in the country.
Andy Abboud, a top executive with Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has said that Texas could be “in a class with Japan, Singapore, and Brazil” as far as casino gaming and sports betting markets.
Given the population and size of Texas, the love affair many in the state have with their sports teams, and the opportunity for revenue for sportsbooks and gaming operators, it’s no wonder that the debate over sports betting and casino expansion is a loud one in the Lone Star State. Now, the only thing that remains to be seen is if voters in Texas make this an important decider in the election that will take place on Nov. 8.
AP Photo/LM Otero