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Thursday , October 18 2018
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Supreme Court Ruled States Can Legalize Sports Gambling, But Texas Still Might Not Play

The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed all states to legalize sports gambling. But a ban in Texas remains in place, and recent history suggests that state leaders will be in no rush to lift it.

The high court ruled on Monday that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 federal law that barred states from legalizing sports gambling, violates the U.S. Constitution. The ruling was on a New Jersey case born out of the state’s efforts in 2014 to repeal a sports betting ban, allowing the state to regulate such behavior.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

The ruling made immediate waves, with some states already preparing to take up sports gambling legislation. Some estimates predict as many as 32 states will offer sports betting within five years; in some of those places, it could begin as soon as next month.

But there were no immediate responses Monday from top Texas officials, suggesting the state is in no rush to change the state law that now prohibits the practice. State leaders have shown resistance to doing so in the past.

In November 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott asked state lottery officials to stop collecting information about potential sports betting games, writing that he did not want the agency to consider any expansions.

“State laws on gaming are to be viewed strictly as prohibitive to any expansion of gambling. This statutory framework is properly intentioned to protect our citizens, and I support it wholeheartedly,” Abbott wrote at the time. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he agreed. Neither returned requests for comment Monday.

In September, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sided with New Jersey in a 21-state brief on the case, arguing that PAPSA “impermissibly skews the federal-state balance” of power. But it seems that was an argument more for states’ rights to decide about sports gambling than for the practice itself.

PAPSA “tramples on state sovereignty,” Paxton said in November.

Paxton also wrote in a non-binding opinion in January 2016 that fantasy sports sites — which many consider more innocuous than traditional sports betting — are akin to gambling because they involve “partial chance.” The Legislature’s efforts to clarify those distinctions fell flat. State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a Laredo Democrat who led that charge, said he plans to file similar legislation again but doesn’t expect the court’s ruling to have immediate impact on his push.

Advocates say sports betting would be an economic boon for states that don’t currently allow it; some estimates say it could add more than $1 billion to Texas’ economy. Opponents fret that sports gambling could draw young people into a practice some view as immoral.

Read related Tribune coverage:

By EMMA PLATOFF – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Texas, Gambling and Al Capone

Texas legislators are going to have to figure out whether they want to allow the private sector to compete with the state’s billion-dollar gambling business.

The state is acting like a monopolist — or Al Capone.

That’s probably not what the state’s policymakers were thinking about when they started throwing up obstacles tohistorical racing and fantasy sports sites, and to ideas for mixing new kinds of gambling into the state lottery.

Their intentions don’t matter, though. What matters is the effect of their actions. And their actions would be familiar to any mobster protecting a numbers racket.

The state depends on the lottery for some of its money. Texans bet $4.53 billion on the lottery’s games in the 2015 fiscal year. The state’s gaming operations put just under $1.6 billion into the state treasury every year. It amounts to less than 2 percent of state revenue, but it’s still significant.

And, as the wizards predicted when Texas voters approved the lottery in 1991, the games have matured and the revenue is slowly dropping. The operations that put $1.58 billion in the state’s purse in 2015 put $1.89 billion in it two years earlier.

So lottery officials started looking for ways to freshen things up, to keep players interested. And they are getting their hands slapped for it. In November, Gov. Greg Abbott wrote to lottery commissioners, telling them to stop playing footsie with the companies that operate fantasy football pools.

Other states have been experimenting with new games, but Abbott was concerned that even thinking about it might indicate — against his wishes — that someone in official Texas is in favor of expanding legal gambling in the state.

Not with this guy in charge.

He’s got the Legislature with him on that. Somebody slipped a provision into the state budget that allows the state’s budget writers to micromanage rulemaking at the Texas Racing Commission. That blossomed into a standoff that continues today, with lawmakers saying they will cut off the agency’s funding — and with it, operation of the existing racetracks in Texas — if racing commissioners refuse to repeal a rule that allows “historical racing” at those tracks.

Historical racing uses the results of old horse races, with details like jockey and horse names and race dates stripped off, as a basis for wagering. Some historical racing rigs look like slot machines, some don’t. Either way, state officials regard it as a new form of gambling and don’t like it. Track and horse owners think historical racing would bring more money into their sputtering business.

But racing doesn’t matter to the state from a fiscal standpoint. It’s an unnoticeable speck in the state budget. Unlike the lottery, lawmakers could dump it without any real effect on state business.

It’s not just legislators tapping the brakes on gambling, either. Attorney General Ken Paxtonadded to the dogpile this week, answering a legislator’s question about fantasy sports gambling by saying he thinks that it is against the law.

State lawmakers have consistently turned back attempts to allow casinos or casino-style games. They like the money from the lottery, but you can tell they don’t really like it. It’s not unusual to see lawmakers filing bills that would outlaw the lottery. The Texas House actually voted to abolish it in 2013, reversing itself a few hours later — probably out of fear that they would have to come up with the money somewhere else.

Lawmakers don’t want it to get any bigger, if getting bigger means getting into new games that might interest bored gamblers in the state.

And they actively discourage competition for it, either from within regulated gambling through the lottery and the racing commission or from outside from the companies that operate sports fantasy games or the ones that build casinos.

It’s a protection racket. For now, only the state government is legally allowed to operate gaming businesses in Texas, and they’ve made a lot of money at it over the last quarter-century.

That’s easy when the biggest player — the state — gets to decide whether to allow any competition.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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