During the week leading up to the general election in Texas, incumbent governor Greg Abbott threw out a bone that got commercial casino operators perking their ears up. He said he’s looking at the possibility of allowing commercial casinos to open in Texas which would see them compete with tribal gaming operators there.
Now, Texas senator Carol Alvarado has introduced a bill to create a gambling commission in the state and place a referendum on the ballot to allow citizens to vote on whether or not they’d like to see up to four new casino resorts and a variety of smaller gambling and sports betting venues.
Neither the recently re-elected Gov. Abbot’s proposal nor Senator Alvarado’s have been discussed officially as the legislative session does not begin again until January 10, 2023.
Would be a Sea Change for Texas
As written, Senate Joint Resolution 17 would create a sea change for gambling in Texas where most residents travel to nearby states to play cards or slots, take a gambling cruise, or visit one of the three tribal casinos – only one of which is recognized by the state as a casino.
Major cities with populations of two million or more would be eligible to host one of the four casino resorts and smaller cities could open less intensive gambling venues. The only current full-scale casino operation in the state is the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle’s Pass – near the Mexican border and about 2 hours from San Antonio, a city with about 1.5m people.
Another on again off again “bingo/keno” slots hall and entertainment center is located in El Paso, and the most recent addition to tribal gaming is Naskila Gaming in Livingston – a site the government fought hard to put down but finally conceded to allow in July after courts ruled in the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s favor to allow the slots hall to remain open.
The bill would allow for small-scale gaming floors at racetracks as well as Indian gaming facilities.
The Resolution states that it is: “…proposing a constitutional amendment to foster economic development and job growth and to provide tax relief and funding for education and public safety by creating the Texas Gaming Commission, authorizing and regulating casino gaming at a limited number of destination resorts and facilities licensed by the commission, authorizing sports wagering, requiring occupational licenses to conduct casino gaming, and requiring the imposition of a tax.”
Las Vegas Sands is Chomping at the Bit
Las Vegas Sands has already spent about $1.5 million lobbying for commercial gambling in the state through The Texas Destination Resort Alliance.
The casino question was not a hot-button issue during the lead-up to the election, with both candidates supporting the economic benefits to the state that commercial gambling could bring.
In October, the democratic contender for the governor’s office, Beto O’Rourke, told the Fort Worth Star Telegram: “Allowing limited forms of gambling in Texas would generate billions of dollars in new state revenue every year that we could use to increase school funding and lower property taxes. I am open to exploring the idea of legalizing and closely regulating sports bettings, as two-thirds of US states have done.
“I’m also open to letting voters decide on destination-style casinos in our biggest metro areas and lifting burdensome limitations on casinos already being operated by our Tribal nations while working with local leaders and community members to ensure that any casino in Texas benefits the community in which it operates.”
The 88th Texas Legislature’s regular session runs from Jan. 10 to May 29, 2023, with republicans in control of both chambers.
Source: Texas Senator proposes four destination casinos, sports betting and small-scale gambling in latest bill, G3 Newswire, November 18, 2022