The bills, sponsored by state Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, and Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, will allow for the construction of four casino resorts in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, as well as the legalisation of sports betting. The state’s three federally recognised Indian tribes will also be allowed to expand full-fledged gaming on their lands, including slot machines, a right that the state has long denied them.
Since the bills aim to lift the Texas Constitution’s prohibition on most gaming, they require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers. If any bill passes the Legislature, Texas voters will decide whether or not to allow gambling expansion.
“Now is the time to let Texas voters determine whether or not to legalise casino gaming,” Alvarado said in a statement. “Texas loses billions of dollars per year to neighbouring states that legalise gaming, and this bill will bring that money back to the state, generate tens of thousands of jobs, and reduce illegal gambling.”
The Las Vegas Sands, the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s gaming empire, is pushing to lift the state’s betting ban. The Sands’ CEO, Rob Goldstein, told The Dallas Morning News that casinos will boost Texas’ economy and tourism.
Except for bingo, the Texas Lottery, and some horse and greyhound track racing, the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature has long resisted expanding gaming. However, surveys, including one published this week by The News and the University of Texas at Tyler, show that if given the chance, the majority of respondents would legalise casino gambling.
Expanding gambling in Texas, according to Republican insiders, will be a massive boost. However, the Sands’ multibillion-dollar investment in bringing casinos to the state, combined with a related push by professional sports teams to legalise sports betting, means that overturning the state’s gambling ban is gaining steam for the first time in years.
Interests in gaming
Both Republicans, Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, have been silent on the drive to bring casinos to Texas this year. Last month, however, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs the Texas Senate and has considerable influence over legislative agendas, cast doubt on the efforts.
Patrick told Chad Hasty on the Chad Hasty radio show that infighting among casino, racetrack, and Indian gaming interests has stymied progress in the past.
A Sands representative said during a briefing on the legislation last month that Dallas will be the state’s top casino gaming destination. Gaming companies who want to open a casino in a city with a population of less than 5 million people will have to invest at least $1 billion in the project. A $2 billion investment will be needed to build a casino in a more populated city.
There will be a limit of four casinos, except those constructed by tribes on Indian territory. Only one Texas tribe, the Kickapoo Nation, operates a casino in this region, but it lacks traditional slot machines and many other Vegas-style table games. Certain racetracks will also be permitted to offer limited gambling.
A second package of bills establishing the regulatory rules for casinos has yet to be introduced.
While the Sands bill involves sports betting legalisation, a coalition of professional sports teams and betting platforms working to reverse the ban has not publicly backed casinos. The sports betting bill, which would also necessitate a constitutional amendment, would allow Texans aged 21 and up to wager on professional and college sports. Bettors will get up to 90% of their winnings, with the remaining 10% going to support special education in Texas.
All of the top Dallas-area players, including the Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars, and Texas Rangers, are members of the Sports Betting Alliance, which is “focused exclusively on mobile sports betting legislation,” according to a spokeswoman.