Despite Supreme Court ruling, sports gambling remains illegal in Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that barred sports betting in most states, but the ruling will have no immediate impact on Texas, where wagering on sporting events remains illegal.

To change that, the Texas Legislature would have to change state law — and likely the Texas Constitution as well — while overcoming strong anti-gambling sentiments that have doomed efforts to loosen state gaming laws in recent legislative sessions.

Still, Monday’s 6-3 ruling will likely renew efforts to expand gambling in Texas, said Jay Stewart, an Austin lawyer who has worked on gaming issues for more than two decades.

“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,” Stewart said.

“The ruling says the federal government cannot artificially limit a state from allowing sports gambling if that state chooses to allow sports gambling, and in Texas sports gambling is specifically prohibited in the Penal Code,” he said.

Petitioned by New Jersey, which tried to expand sports betting to casinos in Atlantic City in 2012, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that, with limited exceptions, barred states from licensing or authorizing gambling on sporting events.

By dictating what state lawmakers may or may not do about sports gambling, the law improperly placed state legislatures under the control of Congress in violation of the 10th Amendment, said Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court.

“It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine,” he said.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own,” Alito added.

Pro-gaming forces greeted the ruling with enthusiasm, saying it will allow willing states generate additional tax revenue, provide an economic boost to sports organizations and help law enforcement combat illegal gambling.

“Today’s ruling makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want — an open, transparent and responsible market for sports betting,” said Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, a trade group that represents the U.S. casino industry.

The National Conference of State Legislatures also praised the ruling, saying it affirmed each state’s right to legalize or prohibit wagering on sports without federal interference. “This landmark ruling provides states another tool with which they can continue to craft smart, tailored policies during a time of congressional gridlock in Washington,” the organization said.

In Texas, the smart money is on the continued prohibition of sports betting, at least for the foreseeable future, observers said Monday.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and majorities in the Texas House and Senate have consistently opposed efforts to expand gaming in Texas, said Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Christian Life Commission, the public policy arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which fights legalized gambling.

“I don’t see their positions changing,” Kohler said. “This ruling doesn’t change the game here in this state. I don’t think this changes it one bit.”

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