The Texas sports betting legislation that passed in the House of Representatives last week won’t get heard in the Senate, says Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick. It’s the latest gambling expansion effort to fall victim to partisan politics. Patrick said the two-part legislative package – consisting of a bill and a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment – won’t get referred to the Senate, despite having passed in the House.
The legislation has a Republican sponsor, Rep. Jeff Leach. However, it has Democrat co-sponsors and relied heavily on Democrat votes to pass in the House last week. The result is that it has no hope in the Republican-dominated Senate.
The Twitter account for the Lieutenant-Governor’s office initially made the announcement on May 13. Its use of first-person language suggests it was composed by Patrick himself:
I’ve said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP. 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. #txlege
Because the effort consists of two pieces of legislation and the tweet refers only to the bill, there was still some remaining confusion. A subsequent tweet clarified that House Joint Resolution 102 won’t receive consideration either.
In the process, Patrick made it clear that the Senate’s resistance to sports betting has more to do with partisanship than policy:
Texas is a red state. Yet the House vote on sports betting was carried by a Dem majority. The Texas Senate doesn’t pass bills with GOP in the minority. The GOP majority guides our path. HJR102 also will not be referred. Can’t waste committee/floor time in the last days.
Partisanship Kills Gambling Expansion
There are three main reasons gambling expansion efforts fail. Sometimes, as in California, there are too many stakeholders who all want something different out of it. Other times, the issue is trying to do too much too quickly, as we’ve seen in New York. The third reason is this sort of partisanship.
Ironically, the reason for that is precisely that gambling isn’t an inherently partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans each have their own sets of arguments for and against the idea. The logic on each side differs, but the end result is that both parties are split on gambling.
With neither party unanimously in favor of gambling expansion, efforts usually need to be bipartisan to succeed. If a legislature is allergic to cooperation, then gambling bills aren’t going to have much hope.
Texas Voters Likely Would Have Approved Sports Betting
A bill like HB1942 would not be enough on its own to legalize sports betting in Texas. Like many states, it has a constitutional prohibition on gambling.
The joint resolution, which required more votes to pass, would have created a ballot measure to amend the Constitution. If voters had approved the measure, it would have created a carve-out such that HB1942 could take effect.
So, even if the Senate had followed the House’s lead, Texas sports betting would have been no sure thing.
That said, there’s a good chance the referendum would have passed. A poll by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston in January found that 75% of Texans were in favor of the joint resolution.
Had HJR102 passed, Texas voters would have had their say in this year’s state election on November 7. The silver lining here is that next year’s general election provides another opportunity for ballot measures.
Any such effort would still have to get through both halves of the legislature. How likely that is, depends on the outcome of the state election. From the sounds of things, as long as Patrick is Lieutenant-Governor and the Senate is strongly Republican, it doesn’t matter what the House does. But if sports betting becomes a topic of debate during the campaign and the legislature shifts a little towards parity, the partisan reluctance to consider it could begin to weaken.