Sports betting is illegal in Texas, but it still happens. That said, the process of placing a bet isn’t easy. You can use an offshore betting website, which will usually let you enter your credit card information to place bets and, if you win, mail you a check to cash out. If you want to use one of the domestic betting sites you see advertised during games, you might be able to pull it off—if you’re able to figure out how to use a VPN, or a virtual private network, you can try to fool the sportsbook’s geofencing technology into believing you’re in one of the 22 U.S. states that allow online sports betting. Then there are the low-tech methods: You can find a buddy who wants to take the other side of the bet, or you can go to Las Vegas for a weekend and gamble to your heart’s content. If you’re serious about it, maybe you ask a guy who knows a guy and find a bookie who’ll let you place bets in envelopes stuffed with cash. 

None of these methods are easy, though. It’s likely that every time you try to add cash to your account with an offshore site, it’ll trigger your bank’s fraud prevention notice. Some credit card companies won’t process transactions with those sites at all, so you may need to find a specific card that you use just for those bets. Then there’s the delay in processing your winnings, as offshore sites can’t easily transfer funds to a U.S. bank account—so you’ll often need to wait for a paper check to show up in the mail. The VPN solution can be similarly buggy—you’ll need to pay for a subscription to a service that allows you to monkey with your phone or computer’s advanced settings in order for it to work, and some betting sites have additional protections to make it harder to wager from states that don’t allow gambling, even if your VPN says you’re in Indiana or New Mexico. Vegas is time-honored, but getting on a plane and booking a hotel room requires a serious investment of time and money. Win enough bets against your friends, meanwhile, and they’ll probably stop taking the odds you offer. And you probably know enough to know that you never want to fall into debt with your bookie. 

So although it’s certainly possible for Texans to bet on sporting events, the process comes with a lot of friction.

On Thursday, the state House of Representatives took a small first step toward removing that friction. The House approved by a narrow margin House Joint Resolution 102, which would give voters the opportunity to amend the Texas constitution to join the 22 other states that allow mobile sports betting. To reach the point where gambling on sports in Texas becomes legal, the Senate would also need to approve the resolution (which its leadership has indicated it does not intend to support), and then—if the Senate surprises us—voters in the state would have to approve changing the constitution to allow it. The silver lining for proponents of sports wagering is that the enacting legislation to create a legal framework for betting, should the constitution be amended to allow it, also passed the House yesterday, which means the law could go into effect quickly if the constitutional amendment survives the next steps. 

The outcome of yesterday’s vote came as something of a surprise; the powerful House Freedom Caucus had signaled its opposition earlier in the session, issuing a tweet that declared sports betting “corporate welfare at its worst” and a giveaway to “woke” sports leagues. In remarks just moments before the votes were cast, Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) inveigled against the bill by asking his fellow members to put themselves in the shoes of one of our valiant service members who attended an event for a sports team that had stopped playing the national anthem before games, and to imagine how that must feel. 

That’s a fairly confusing hodgepodge of arguments—the largest gambling business in the United States, Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has 69 registered lobbyists in Texas, and is owned by the GOP megadonor Adelson family. (After the death of patriarch Sheldon Adelson in 2021, the family’s political contributions did drop, but still came out to $20 million for the 2022 election cycle, leaving Adelson’s widow among the top fifteen largest GOP donors in the nation.) The word “woke” doesn’t really have a fixed meaning, but tying it to a major part of the Adelsons’ business is a bold and innovative stretch on just about every previous definition of “woke.” 

Supporters of the resolution, however, didn’t present much more cogent arguments than its opponents. North Texas representative Jeff Leach, who introduced the resolution, described various scenarios for which Texans might place a bet—tossing ten bucks into a March Madness pool, or putting fifty dollars on José Altuve hitting a home run in game four of the World Series—and then explaining that, right now, our friends and neighbors who do such things are criminals under Texas law, and our children deserve better. Julie Johnson, a Democrat from Dallas, attempted to raise a point that invoked the anti-trans bills, which have been framed as “protecting women’s sports,” to argue that if lawmakers really wanted to support women’s sports, they’d approve the bill, which could bring more attention to the WNBA. The semicoherence of the various statements made remarks from Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer seem downright refreshing: He indicated in an email to his colleagues in March that he’d like to see the gambling issue revisited in another session, perhaps after lobbyists in favor of legalization increased their campaign contributions to Democrats, which was at least easier to make sense of than his colleagues’ condemnations of wokeness and WNBA boosterism. 

The next stop for HJR 102 is the Texas Senate, where its death by neglect seems likely. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told conservative radio host Mark Davis in April that he “couldn’t find one senator” in his caucus who supports it, and that he wouldn’t bring a bill that has more Democrats than Republicans backing it to the floor. That said, strange things happen in Texas politics—after all, HJR 102 seemed likely to fail in the House until it passed today—so while the near-term legalization of online sports betting in Texas remains a long shot, a truly degenerate gambler still might decide to put some money on the underdog.