Push Continues For Gambling Expansion As Texas Bills Include Casinos, Sports Betting

Posted By Martin Harris on March 12, 2021

Bipartisan bills filed in both chambers of the Texas legislature this week aim to legalize casino gambling and sports betting in the state. The filings represent the latest effort by lawmakers to find a path toward opening up Texas to forms of gambling currently legal in neighboring states.

The introduction of casino gambling would include both commercial and tribal casinos in the Lone Star State. Sports betting would be among the types of gambling allowed. The bills also propose allowing additional casino-style gambling in a limited number of horse and greyhound race tracks in the state.

The bills are expressly backed by lobbyists representing Las Vegas Sands, dozens of whom have been at work in Texas for several months trying to change lawmakers’ minds about expanding gambling in the state.

Legislation calls for four ‘destination resorts’ in state’s largest cities

From the House side comes HJR133, with Rep. John Kuempel (R) as the primary sponsor and Rep. Toni Rose (D) as a co-sponsor. Over in the Senate, Sen. Carol Alvarado (D) is the lone sponsor of SJR49. Both bills were filed Tuesday and contain identical language.

The bills propose a constitutional amendment allowing up to four casinos to be built in the most-populated metropolitan areas in Texas. Those regions include:

  • Houston
  • Dallas-Fort Worth
  • San Antonio
  • Austin

Those locations would be eligible for what the bills describe as new “destination resorts.”

The bills would also allow the state’s three federally recognized tribes to offer casino-style gaming, including slot machines. Those tribes are the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo.

In addition, the bills would allow “limited casino gaming” at three horse tracks in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth. Limited casino gaming would also be permitted at two greyhound race tracks in Corpus Christi and Harlingen.

Bills propose new gaming commission, tax rates, investment minimums

The bills would create the Texas Gaming Commission as a regulatory body. The commission would issue licenses and oversee the casinos, ensure the collection of taxes, and also license and regulate sports betting in Texas.

The new commission would issue Class I licenses to the “destination resorts,” Class II licenses for limited casino gaming at the horse tracks, and Class III licenses for limited casino gaming at greyound tracks.

According to the proposals, “limited casino gaming” means no more than 750 “gaming positions” per location. Also, no more than 25% of those positions can be table games.

The legislation would impose a 10% tax rate on table games and a 25% tax rate on slot machines.

Other provisions include investment requirements for those wishing to build prospective Class I casinos. In areas with populations of five million or more (e.g., Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth), the minimum investment is $2 billion. In areas with populations of between two and five million, the minimum investment is $1 billion.

Lawmakers, lobbyists face uphill battle for gambling expansion

Since the legislation proposes a constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds’ approval from both the House and Senate. Then Texas voters would have to approve the gambling expansion as well before it could become law.

Las Vegas Sands has hired more than 60 lobbyists and spent millions to promote such legislation in Texas.

“We appreciate the work of the bill’s sponsors and we are excited to engage in further discussion with elected leaders and community stakeholders on the possibilities for expanding Texas’ tourism offerings through destination resorts,” Andy Abboud, senior vice president of Las Vegas Sands, told The Texas Tribune.

As noted, the bills include authorizing sports wagering at the new gambling facilities without delving into specifics. The bills do not mention online or mobile gambling.

Earlier this legislative session, Rep. Harold Dutton proposed an online-only sports betting bill that would allow a maximum of five licenses. The state’s professional sports teams have indicated their support of legalizing sports betting in Texas, backing a separate bill filed by Rep. Dan Huberty that would enable franchises like the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks to own sports betting licenses.

Gov. Greg Abbott has voiced some support for sports betting legislation. However, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has indicated there is little reason for optimism among sports betting proponents, declaring it’s “not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session.”

The sports betting-only bills would also require a constitutional amendment to allow gambling expansion in the state. In other words, despite the efforts of lawmakers and lobbyists, and despite the fact that a majority of Texans favor legalizing and taxing casino gambling, it will certainly be tough-going for any of the currently proposed bills to advance.

Photo by AP / Eric Gay
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