Jefferson County Leads the Charge for Legal Gambling in Texas
Two people in Jefferson County, Texas have collected over 400 signatures in just four days, petitioning residents for a county-wide gambling vote.
Kevin Johnson and Elias Hernandez, both horse racing enthusiasts and connected to Renaissance Hospitality, want the issue brought to the May 2019 ballot in Jefferson County. For that to happen, they need to collect their signatures by October 21 this year.
The petition reads:
“We the undersigned qualified voters of Jefferson County, Texas, hereby request that a local option election be called in accordance with the terms and provisions of the Texas Election Code, Chapter 277 in the above mentioned area for the purpose of submitted to the legally qualified voters of said area the determination of the following issue, to wit:
To approve the legalization of pari-mutuel wagering on horse races.”
In an article in The Port Arthur News this week, Kevin Johnson said:
“We want legislation to give people a vote, which hasn’t happened in Texas. This is so Jefferson County, if the opportunity for (legal gambling) arises, it won’t be left out.”
Legal Sports Betting in the U.S.
In May, The United States Supreme Court struck down PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. PASPA was a federal ban on sports betting outside of four states including Nevada. Since then, states have had the right to make their own legislation and regulations surrounding sports betting.
Illegal Sports Betting in the U.S.
Americans spend around $150 billion on illegal gambling a year, which could be a huge revenue for those states willing to legalize sports betting. Of course, there are also dangers to allowing sports betting, and Texas is of the opinion that gambling does more harm than good.
One goal of legalizing sports betting would be to pull those illegal gamblers into legitimacy, thus offering them protection and collecting the revenues instead of allowing it to go to bookies and offshore gambling companies.
Gambling in Texas
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down PASPA, residents in Texas won’t get to place bets anytime soon. Wagering on sporting events is illegal in the state, and overall, Texas has very strong anti-gambling opinions that have been successful in quashing any efforts to relax state gaming laws during recent legislative sessions.
To allow for sports gambling, Texas Legislature would have to change state law and probably its state Constitution as well. One Texan lawyer, Jay Stewart, has worked on various gaming issues for the last 20 years. To reporters for Statesman, he said:
“I’m sure that bills will be filed. I think the general atmosphere against casinos and gambling in Texas will continue, and sports betting is something you do generally in a casino, in person or online, so I think those attitudes would have to change. I would find it a huge stretch to say this ruling [speaking of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn PASPA] will generate interest in allowing casinos in Texas, people will nibble around the edges of anti-gambling laws.”
The Lottery and Racetracks in Texas
Texas has the lottery in addition to horse and dog racing with simulcast betting at different tracks across the country. This gambling brings in over $4 billion each year. There are currently nine licenses for racetracks in the state, but only seven tracks are in operation. In order for Jefferson County to get a racetrack, there has to be a vote.
This is a betting system where all bets of a particular kind are placed into a pool. Taxes and the “house-take” are removed, and the payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among the winning bets. Pari-mutuel betting is used for greyhound racing, horse racing, and other sporting events of short duration where the participants finish in a ranked order.
This kind of betting is different from fixed-odds betting, and is state-regulated. In many states where gambling is illegal, pari-mutuel betting is permitted. Sometimes it is offered at “off-track” locations, where players may place bets on the events without being present at the track to observe them.
Future Hopes for Jefferson County
Both men feel that the ultimate goal would be to develop a casino within Jefferson County. If their petition is successful and results in legislation being passed, the state would put money from gambling profits towards support of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. This association gives hail and windstorm insurance to counties on the coast. It’s been under financial strain due to large payouts over the last few years because of massive storms like Harvey.
Potential Gambling Revenues Lost to Other States
According to Johnson, the state of Texas loses around $2.4 billion every year when Texans travel to Louisiana to gamble. The state also loses money to New Mexico and Oklahoma casinos. A perfect example of lost revenue is the partnership between the Dallas Cowboys and the WinStar World Casino, which is located across the border in Oklahoma. It would’ve been better for the state of Texas if they actually had an elite casino that the Cowboys and other professional sports teams could partner with. Instead, this high profile partnership will direct Texans to an out-of-state casino.
Why the Petition Might Succeed
Although Texas has never approved pari-mutuel wagering in the past, times are changing. Johnson said,
“The whole industry is changing. Gambling used to be looked at with all the bad that has come with it. But casinos have become a large form of entertainment. The pressure will come off legislators who support it.”
And that’s one step closer to legalizing gambling and sports betting in Texas.
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