HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Sports betting, in some form, is now legal in 35 states. Some feel there's momentum building to finally legalize sports gambling in Texas when the legislative session starts in January.
"I was not a supporter of the expansion of gambling during my years in office," former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who served from 2000 to 2015, admitted during a 1-on-1 interview with ABC13 Thursday.
But Perry, a lifelong Republican, is now joining forces with the Texas Sports Betting Alliance in a push to greenlight sports betting in Texas.
"I don't consider this to be an expansion of gambling," Perry explained. "This is to oversee and regulate an activity that is going on in this state. There's more than $8 billion of illegal betting that goes on every year in the state of Texas. That's not going to stop. This is going to make legal an activity that's already going on. We regulate it, we make sure it's not right, we have the proper oversight, and as an additional measure, the state of Texas will receive a half a billion dollars or more to its general revenue fund, which can be used for a lot of good purposes."
The Texas Sports Betting Alliance is a coalition of the Lone Star State's 11 pro sports franchises lobbying to legalize mobile sports betting as early as 2023.
"We definitely feel like we have more momentum, and we do think the time is now to have these conversations with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle," Cara Gustafson, with the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, explained. "At the end of the day, they are going to approach each issue through their own lens, and there will be some legislators that feel it's just not for them or for their constituents. But our job is making sure they have all the facts, and they know about this illegal market we want to combat. Texans are being taken advantage of."
In October, prior to being reelected, Gov. Greg Abbott's office told ABC13 that the governor would "take a look at sports gambling" as a "very professional entertainment option" for Texans. The governor and many of his fellow Republican leaders have long been against legalizing gambling.
"Like many other initiatives with perceived momentum: when the lights come on in Austin asking if it's something we want to introduce to our constituents, it doesn't go anywhere," Rob Kohler, who represents the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told ABC13 Thursday. "Point to one state where legalized gambling has worked. You can't just legalize gambling 'a little bit,' and that's the problem."
Earlier in November, California, which is the only state with more people than Texas, overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposition that would've legalized sports betting there.
"I wouldn't say now it's now or never, but 35 states have joined the conversation," Gustafson added. "This is the most momentum we've had."
"I think it's good for everyone across the board," Perry said. "I'm quite confident as Texans, we live here because we love freedom, that a majority of the people in the state of Texas in November would go and support a constitutional amendment."
In order for sports betting to be legalized in Texas, the measure would have to make it through the state House, Senate and Gov. Abbott before then appearing on a statewide ballot as a constitutional amendment.