A bill legalizing for-profit fantasy sports leagues in Texas has gained some yards in the state Legislature.
House Bill 1487, co-authored by state Rep. Richard Pena Raymond, D-Laredo, was approved on a 6-1 vote this week by the House Committee on Licensing & Administrative Procedures, although it remains unclear when or if it will be taken up by the full House for a vote.
State Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, voted against the bill, while state Reps. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, were absent.
A companion bill, Senate Bill 1970 authored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is pending in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Both bills would define fantasy sports as games of skill, not chance, and make it legal to operate or participate in for-profit fantasy sports leagues in which players pay entrance fees and win prizes.
Last year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion that fantasy sports is chance-based gambling and is illegal in Texas. That opinion prompted the bills from Raymond and Kolkhorst.
Supporters of fantasy sports applauded this week’s House committee approval of Raymond’s bill, calling the right to play the games “an important economic liberty” for Texans.
“Fantasy sports in our state are no different from other legal contests that Texans have enjoyed for decades,” said Scott Dunaway, spokesman for the lobbying group Texas Fantasy Sports Alliance. “Technology has simply evolved the way Texans compete.”
But some religious and anti-gambling organizations are opposed to for-profit fantasy sports leagues, and they turned out to testify against Raymond’s bill during a public hearing earlier this month. They say fantasy sports have morphed from an innocent pastime with family and friends into a multi-million-dollar business that constitutes gambling and hooks players.
Rodger Weems, of the advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling of Texas, said he was disappointed in the House committee vote, but he said his group will continue opposing both bills as they move through the legislative process.
“We’ll just take it a step at a time,” Weems said.
Participants in fantasy sports leagues pay entry fees, create teams from menus of professional athletes and then compile points based upon statistical performance, such as yards gained and touchdowns scored in football. Money is awarded to the owners of the top teams in the online games, which typically last one day to one week.
For-profit fantasy sports have risen in popularity nationwide in recent years. But the business has been largely self-regulated, leaving league operators to navigate a patchwork of state laws.