Sports gambling in Texas – to use football parlance – is in the red zone.
It’s so close. Just a few more yards and Texas will join a whopping 36 other American states that have scored big by finally acknowledging, legalizing, and regulating some form of sports gambling.
Today, it is in fact practically inevitable that legalized sports gambling is in Texas’ future. If new bills pass through the Texas House of Representatives and Senate, a possibility that earned a huge boost Monday when a couple of power-wielding politicians penned legislation in support of it, parlays will be just a keypad away in no time.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R – Brenaham), who previously opposed any such legislation, and Rep. Jeff Leach (R – Plano), who supported a previous version of the bill, authored the bills. They quickly earned swift and adamant support from the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, which includes every Texas professional sports organization.
Texans owner Cal McNair said: “The Houston Texans support giving Texans the opportunity to choose for themselves if they want a regulated and taxed sports betting industry in Texas.”
Astros owner Jim Crane said: “Sports betting is going to happen whether it is regulated or not. Rather than having Texans betting illegally through unknown companies in foreign countries, this bill will allow controls and safeguards for betting in Texas while generating significant revenue that will be used to reduce everyone’s property taxes in Texas.”
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who has majority interest in multiple gaming casinos, said: “No one wins with an illegal market as robust as the one in Texans, and I applaud Senator Kolkhorst and Representative Leach for recognizing the need to address the illegal market in Texas.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry also endorsed the legislation.
So why is the most famous gambler in the world, Gallery Furniture’s Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, not working on his end-zone dance? Why is the man who famously has bet millions on sports driving and flying across the country to legal sportsbooks not rejoicing?
“I am 1,000% against it,” McIngvale said.
To say the least, that lands as a surprise. But his reasoning: He knows the discipline it takes to gamble without wrecking your life.
“I am the world’s most famous gambler because I am very impulsive,” McIngvale said. “And I feel like other gamblers like me are very impulsive. And if all you have to do is make a bet is pick up the phone … it’s too easy.
“You have to have the discipline of having to get in the car, drive all the way to Louisiana or fly to Lafayette or Lake Charles, wherever, and make the bet. (The argument that) all this is going to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in; there’s no way. There aren’t those kinds of margins in this stuff. How much have schools improved since we got the lotto funds? I would say it’s been absolutely zero.”
Mack is not alone, either. While there also is growing sentiment that Gov. Greg Abbott will support the bills, which are co-authored by Democrats, the biggest hurdle might be Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, whose power in the House and Senate is undeniable and has long been staunchly against any such bill. However, Kolkhorst, a longtime Patrick supporter, now has her name on the bill. That is the biggest boost gambling in Texas has had, perhaps ever.
There also is the element of legal online sportsbooks being taxed up to 10%, which the legislation currently would put toward offsetting property taxes and would be a sure way to gain favor with the population.
It seems to be an easy decision. As the sports alliance says, millions, if not billions, of Texas dollars are being spent in neighboring states like Oklahoma, New Mexico, and most significantly, Louisiana. Those dollars would stay in Texas, and the seedy element of the game would be regulated.
For anti-legal gambling advocates like McIngvale, the promises ultimately will be a futile shell game.
“If you want to go gamble, go gamble somewhere else,” McIngvale said. “What we need to do here is put more jobs here for Texans through things like trade schools. There’s a tremendous shortage of skilled laborers in this state. Why don’t we focus on that rather than a couple of people that are serving drinks in a casino?
“If we’re going to spend all this energy, why don’t we spend some energy on bringing the trades back into high schools? We’re talking about improving schools. These kids need to get a job and work with their hands and try 15 or 20 different jobs. So they find a job they love, then they have purpose and meaning in their life. I don’t know what kind of purpose and meaning to anybody’s life sports gambling is going to bring. The politicians promised the moon (with the lottery), and they gave you nothing.”
For every point, there is a counterpoint. Talk about the economic impact and potential jobs that could be stimulated by legalized sports gambling, and the counterpoint like McIngvale’s is equally as compelling. Talk about cleaning up an often-seedy offshore industry, or keeping money in Texas, or reducing property taxes. And opposing voices bring receipts. Talk about regulation and building in checks and balances to offset gambling addiction. And the question bounces back to you: How has that worked out in other states?
“We’re all compulsive,” McIngvale said. “There are a whole lot of people that gambling has ruined their lives. I’m lucky enough not to have ruined my life. And you know, you get up to the edge. But for a lot of people, it’s like … if you fly close enough to the Sun, sooner or later it’s going to burn you.”
But like the sun, it also now seems almost inevitable.
There will be gambling in Texas. There will be millions of dollars spent, one way or another. And more and more, it’s looking as if Texas finally will punch the ball into the end zone.
If the bills go to a popular vote in November, even Mack admits, “It’ll be a slam-dunk.”