Texas legislators are on the move to bring casino gambling to the Lone Star state. Before this year’s legislative session even started, state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, filed a bill on casino legislation that was supported by Las Vegas Sands in 2021.
The tide has turned somewhat and a new strategy that would moot the Alvarado bill has been introduced by a highly influential Republican representative from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, filed a proposal on Friday (House Joint Resolution 97). The current strategy seeks to amend the state constitution to allow voters to make the decision on expanded gambling in November. A total of seven destination casino resorts could be authorized if the bill passes and is signed by the governor. Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of allowing casinos in the state.
Jobs and Economic Shot in the Arm for North Texas
Political and business leaders have advocated for casino gambling in North Texas for several years in order to bring jobs, increase tourism, and to reap other economic benefits.
Las Vegas Sands and other gambling operators have employed hordes of lobbyists and have spent millions of dollars to promote the legalization of Las Vegas-style casino gambling. There are currently three Native American Tribes with gambling houses in the state using “video bingo” machines that look and act like regular random number generator-powered slots. The largest operation is near the Mexican border in Eagles Pass.
The Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino holds over 3,000 of the machines. Another small operation is located in Livingston, Naskila Entertainment. The third is the on-again-off-again Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso.
Geren said in a prepared statement: “Polling over the last year makes it clear that more than 85% of Texans want the right to vote on this issue, republicans and democrats alike.
“It is high time that the legislature listens to the voters and allow them to decide this issue. I, for one, am not in the business of denying the voters of Texas their voice when their preference is so clear.”
A stampede of legislation in other states legalizing online sports betting and casinos has left Texas in the dust, and neighboring states like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma already allow some forms of gambling leaving Texans to travel out of state or to the southern border in order to gamble. The revenues are not captured by the state under current law.
Sports betting was once considered illegal in all states except Nevada as no other states “grandfathered” in their right to offer it. However, in 2018 the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1991 opening the floodgates for legalized sports betting. There are currently 36 states that allow the activity with Oklahoma planning to join the pack this year.
Seven Destination Casinos Would be Allowed
The Geren bill would authorize two casinos in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, and two in the Houston area. One would be allowed in San Antonio, one in McAllen, and another in Corpus Christi. In the bill, it was stated that those locations promise the “greatest positive economic impact from destination resort development.”
Geren imagines the properties to become more than simply casinos, but “tourism amenities and facilities, including hotels, restaurants, meeting facilities, attractions, entertainment facilities, and shopping centers,” the bill said.
The bill would allow some of the Texas race tracks to use their current pari-mutuel licenses to open destination casinos.
While in the past, gambling proponents have advocated for casino gambling to increase state revenues, in 2023 lawmakers will be busy figuring out what to do with a more than $30b budget surplus.
The bill, as written would impose a 15% gross gambling tax on the casinos.
Just before Christmas, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he would be open to moving his team to the Dallas area when the current long-term lease expires in 8 years and a new casino with an arena for basketball and hockey should be part of a new casino resort. Cuban told The Dallas Morning News, “My goal, and we’d partner with Las Vegas Sands, is when we build a new arena, it’ll be in the middle of a resort and casino. That’s the mission.”
Source: Gambling proponents have a new plan to ask Texas voters to legalize casinos, San Antonio Current, February 3, 2023