In the movie “300,” the king of Sparta leads 300 warriors against the much larger Persian army. Although they’re vastly outnumbered and their deaths are all but certain, the story of their courage and determination inspire an entire country to face their sworn enemy.
Will lawmakers be open to expanding gambling?
Most Texas lawmakers remain opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state. Soon, 300 lobbyists will descend on the Capitol to convince them otherwise.
Do they have what it takes?
Will they be able to change the minds of those who have kept casinos and sports betting out of Texas? Or, once again, will the political winds be too strong to overcome?
Time, as they say, will tell. But, with the regular session of the 88th Legislature slated to begin on Jan. 10, the clock is ticking on those preparing to plead their case to legalize gambling in Texas. Before we dig deeper into the lobbyists’ efforts, let’s recap where we are at this point.
Is Abbott really open to gambling expansion?
Governor Greg Abbott has a history of being against legalizing gambling in Texas. According to a recent article in the San Antonio Express-News,
“Any attempts to expand gambling options in Texas in the past have faced stiff opposition in the Legislature, partly because of Abbott’s declaration in 2015 that he ‘wholeheartedly’ supported the state’s strict laws against expanding gaming.”
In his recent campaign for re-election, however, Abbott seemed at least open to discussing the issue, according to his press secretary, Renae Eze.
“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store. We don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses. And we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming. But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”
While this one quote has gambling proponents champing at the bit, timing is everything. Eze’s quote was from October, when Abbott was in a close race with Beto O’Rourke, who supported gambling. Now that Abbott has been re-elected, he may revert back to his old way of thinking on the issue.
It’s now up to 300 lobbyists to convince the governor and state lawmakers that gambling is a blessing, not a curse.
Lobbyists’ strategy could be same as last session
Among the 300 is Andy Abboud. A savvy lobbyist, Abboud is senior vice president of government relations for Sands, a worldwide casino and resort operator. He has made a career of influencing relations in Sands’ existing markets and building relationships in markets where the company sees potential.
During the 2021 Texas legislative session, Abboud led Sands’ effort to sway legislators and public opinion to support gambling legislation. Ultimately, though, those efforts came up short.
Abboud will be aided this time by the formation of the Texas Sands PAC earlier this year. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the PAC is backed by an “initial funding of $2.3 million from Miriam Adelson, Las Vegas Sands’ majority shareholder. She is the widow of Sheldon Adelson, a GOP mega-donor and former CEO of The Sands. [The PAC] already has spent over half a million dollars, mostly to help incumbents who were facing primary competition.”
In 2021, Abboud’s strategy centered around seeing casinos as “destination resorts.” That approach, which has worked in other potential markets, could once again be the focal point for Abboud.
“While we always do a market analysis, making sure it’s a place where we can succeed, we also have to look at the political environment, which tells us the judgments that are in place, and also if it’s stable. I’ve been able to impact legislative processes and I’ve been able to make legislatures look at tourism in a different way when we’ve entered other markets. They now see it as a benefit and aren’t weary of us opening a casino in their city or country.”
Former governor now supports sports betting
Besides the 300 lobbyists, there are other players in the mix who will peddle their influence to try and sway gambling laws one way or the other in 2023.
Like Abbott, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was once staunchly against gambling. He recently became the spokesman for the Texas Sports Betting Alliance. It’s a group comprised of professional sports teams, betting platforms and fans trying to legalize and regulate sports betting.
His change of heart on gambling is about practicality, Perry said.
“This is a way to regulate and to make legal this activity that is going to go on. The idea that somehow or another people are going to stop betting on sports is a bit of a fallacy. Well, it is just not going to happen.”
Opposition strong against expanding gambling
Perry, Abboud and the rest of the 300 lobbyists certainly have their work cut out for them. First, they’ve got to convince politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the Texas Senate and has made it clear that he is against any type of gambling legislation.
If the issue does make it to the ballot, the lobbyists must then battle groups like the Christian Life Coalition, which are dead set against the expansion of gambling.
Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Christian Life Commission who’s been lobbying against gambling legislation for many years, doesn’t think there’s enough support to pass a gambling bill in 2023.
“You don’t see folks that were running for the Texas House or the Texas Senate going to the Rotary clubs and telling folks, ‘If you elect me, I am going to go pass sports gambling.’”
Voters have consistently said they support the expansion of regulated gambling in the state, leaving the legislature to find a way a to bridge the gap between their ideological stances and the will of their constituents.