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Is 2023 the year Texas will legalize gambling, sports betting? Maybe so

For the first time, Gov. Abbott and House Speaker Phelan are opening the door wider than ever for casino gambling and online sports betting legislation.

HOUSTON — There's a new push to legalize gambling and sports betting in Texas this legislative session and there's a lot of hype that this could be the year it happens.

Two big reasons: Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan. For the first time, both are opening the door wider than ever before for casino gambling and online sports betting legislation.

Sen. Carol Alvarado, of Houston, filed one of the major gambling bills this session thus far. It calls for resort-style casinos in Texas' biggest cities. It also calls for allowing sports betting.

"Each session, each time I do this I'm a bit more optimistic," Alvarado said. "Texans love to gamble. Why not spend that money here in Texas? It's not putting a slot machine in a restaurant or bar or 7-Eleven."

On Monday, several new bills were also filed in the Texas legislature to legalize mobile sports betting. These are being pushed by the Sports Betting Alliance, which includes support from every major sports franchise and owner in Texas, including Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta.

"Texas is generally leading the way, in this case, not so much," former Gov. Rick Perry said.

Perry is a spokesperson for Sports Betting Alliance.

"I'm sure the first time a Christian walked into the Coliseum in Rome, somebody bet on the outcome," Perry said. "This is not an expansion of gambling. This is going on and it's not going to quit."

Perry said online sports betting would bring in an estimated $250 million to Texas.

"This is a stunning effort in my opinion," Perry said. "I think it will pass this session of the legislature -- that's my instinct."

Texans appear to be on board. A new survey by the Hobby School at UH found 69% support allowing sports betting. That number jumps to 75% when asking about legalizing gambling at resort-style casinos.

"Right now, the biggest question mark is will it pass in the Texas Senate, and the person who has the most influence there is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick," Dr. Mark Jones, who conducted the survey, said.

The key player in the battle is Patrick, who has historically been opposed to any type of gambling expansion.

"He'll be fair. He'll be transparent. He'll be honest," Perry said.

If any gambling bill makes its way through the legislature this session, Texas voters would have the final say in the fall.

"It's a game-changer for our state. Why not allow Texans to vote on it? I think they'd do the right thing," Alvarado said.

KHOU 11 News reached out to Patrick for comment, but calls and emails were not returned.

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