Candidates Clash Over Casino Legalization In Texas District 97 Runoff Election

Written By Phil West on May 28, 2024
Miriam Adelson-Backed Candidate Vying For Open House Seat

John McQueeney and Cheryl Bean, two Republicans vying for the open Texas House of Representatives seat in District 97, have a lot in common. They both tout their Christianity and their conservative stance on multiple issues, and they both support Gov. Greg Abbott‘s latest priority, a voucher program allowing parents to use taxpayer dollars to fund their children’s private school educations, touted by proponents as “school choice.”

They’re different in one key way heading into the May 28 runoff, though: Bean has come out in a recent interview against legalizing gambling in Texas. Meanwhile, McQueeney has pocketed a donation of nearly $1.3 million from the new Texas Defense PAC, supported by a more than $9 million donation from Las Vegas Sands Corp. owner Miriam Adelson.

The donation, according to Texas Scorecard, is the largest that the new PAC has made to a single candidate. A quartet of other House members—Dade Phelan, the Texas House Speaker locked in a fierce primary runoff with challenger David Covey as well as Justin Holland, John Kuempel, and Frederick Frazier—each received about $500,000 in donations.

It’s not the first donation that Phelan has received from Adelson. Heading into the primary, Adelson’s Texas Sands PAC gave Phelan $200,000 as part of donations totaling $1.9 million distributed to candidates who could help with Adelson’s goal of getting Texas to legalize destination resort casinos.

McQueeney and Bean differ on resort casinos in Texas issue

Bean has decidedly positioned herself against those efforts, telling CBS Texas in an interview earlier this month:

“I know that there are those who want to push that. It’s a moot point and a waste of taxpayer money to go down that path, because our lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, has already said it will not pass as long as he’s sitting at the head of the Senate. Secondly, anyone who wants to support that is really out to turn, I think, Texas Democrat, because with gambling comes some of the largest unions that you have, and it’s not necessarily educated, it’s going to be jobs that illegals coming across the border can do, and it gives them a right to get a pathway to citizenship.”

While McQueeney did not respond to PlayTexas‘s inquiry about his positions on sports betting and legalizing Texas casinos, he did tell CBS Texas in an interview that ran the same day as the interview with Bean:

“I would never put legislation forward that the voters would decide on that would turn us into Oklahoma or Louisiana, where you’ve got slot machines in the back of gas stations or anything along the lines of where there’s casinos on every single street corner.”

He did, however, grant that “a handful” of destination resort casinos, approved by voters in the state, would be acceptable. He also pointed out:

“A lot of people talk about all the negativity of casinos. That negativity already exists in our society; [there are] back-room poker games, there’s all kinds of other addiction, and we need to make sure that we fund the resources that we have to fight those things. But in my opinion, if we want to get real about property tax relief, we need to get real about revenue generation, and I just don’t see that that’s something that 180 of us in Austin should decide. I support giving the voters the choice on that.

“I think that [casinos] need to be destination-style, they need to be massive economic impact, where you’ve got convention space, hotel space, restaurant space, entertainment space, and gaming. I don’t see us wanting to have more than a handful of those things in the state. They can’t be everywhere; we don’t need them everywhere. The economic investment that it’s going to take to build those things is going to be anywhere between $2 and $6 billion.”

Bean has accused McQueeney of consorting with the enemy—in this case, Democrats. In an article published last week in the Fort Worth Report (Republican-leaning District 97 is in the suburbs west of Fort Worth), Bean launched some grenades McQueeney’s way, saying:

“My opponent will claim to have conservative policy views similar to mine, but he has waffled back and forth on so many of them that I don’t blame voters for being confused on where he stands. The definitive difference between us is that John McQueeney has been outspoken in his support for liberal House leadership and the continued practice of putting Democrats in important chairmanships.”

McQueeney contested that charge, noting:

“As I have stated over and over in this election, we need to ban Democrat chairs in the Texas House of Representatives. This is a conservative state, and we need conservative leadership that will deliver on securing the border, lowering property taxes, fighting violent crime, and improving our schools. We cannot put Democrats in a position to block conservative legislation.”

Ballotpedia notes that in the Republican primary, Bean won 9,057 votes, or 49.6% of the vote, while McQueeney won 5,416 and challenger Leslie Robnett drew 3,798 votes. By contrast, the three Democratic candidates combined brought in fewer than 7,000 votes.

Photo by AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Phil West Avatar
Written by
Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

View all posts by Phil West