Handicapping How Texas House Committee Could Vote On Casino, Sports Betting Proposal

Written By TJ McBride on March 16, 2023 - Last Updated on July 21, 2023
Can Texas House casino/sports betting bill pass committee?

House Joint Resolution 97, which seeks to legalize casino and retail sports betting in Texas through a constitutional amendment, appears to have a favorable chance of advancing from the House State Affairs Committee.

The 13-member State Affairs Committee comprises eight Republicans and five Democrats, many of whom have shown support for legal gambling efforts in the past.

Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and John Kuempel, R-Seguin, sponsor HJR 97, which would legalize up to seven resort casinos in Texas and allow for retail sports betting at casinos and racinos.

Voters would have final approval

The purpose of HJR 97 is simply stated in the bill’s wording:

“Proposing a constitutional amendment … authorizing casino gaming at destination resorts, creating the Texas Gaming Commission, authorizing sports wagering, requiring a license to conduct casino gaming, and requiring the imposition of a gaming and sports wagering tax and license application fees.”

HJR 97 is just starting on what would be a long journey to passage.

First, the joint resolution requires two-thirds approval in the Texas Senate and House. If both bodies approve it, the measure is sent to the Secretary of State’s Office. It would then be placed on the November 2023 election ballot for Texas voters to approve or reject.

Unlike general bills, joint resolutions are amendments to the Texas Constitution, so they do not go to the governor for approval. If the majority of voters approve the measure, it becomes law.

Before all that, however, HJR 97 must pass through the House State Affairs Committee.

How State Affairs Committee members might vote on HJR 97

What chance does the measure have to pass the House State Affairs Committee? PlayTexas breaks down how committee members might vote on the legislation:

Members extremely likely to vote for HJR 97

Rep. Charlie Geren

Geren, who co-authored HJR 97, told CBS-11 News he felt the new legislation is “something we need.”

“… Not just casinos, but fabulous hotels, restaurants, showrooms, and retail. All of that creates jobs and it generates a lot of money for the state,” Geren said.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Thompson, D-Houston, has served District 141 since 1973. She is without a doubt in favor of HJR 97. She recently spoke about the economic benefits of legalized gambling in the state at a Texas Tribune event.

Members likely to vote for HJR 97

Rep. Todd Hunter

Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, chairs the State Affairs Committee. Unlike many Republicans in the House, Hunter is willing to keep an open mind on the gambling issue. He even touted gambling legislation proposed in 2011, as reported by 3 News.

“… You are having a great constructive debate and discussion on gaming,” Hunter said. “It is a great thing for the coastal bend, and what you’re going to see throughout the weekend is the pros and cons, but it’s the statistics that show how coastal areas like Corpus Christi and the surrounding areas San Patricio, Nueces, Aransas – can gain across the board.”

It’s no sure bet Hunter will approve HJR 97, but his history shows there’s a good chance he will back the measure, as long as it makes sense economically.

Rep. Ana Hernandez

Hernandez, D-Houston, is the vice chair of the committee, a seat she has held since 2019. She has received campaign donations from entities that favor legal gambling in Texas even though she hasn’t sponsored any pro-gambling legislation in the past.

The Texas Sands PAC, a group lobbying for expanded gambling in Texas, gave Hernandez $7,000 duuring the 2022 election cycle and $5,500 in 2020. She also accepted a $5,000 individual contribution from Tilman and Paige Fertitta. Tilman Fertitta is the owner of the Houston Rockets, which is a member of the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, a lobbying group that includes major sports teams in Texas, such as the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks.

Tilman Fertitta, the Texas-based billionaire who also owns the Golden Nugget brand, sits on the board at DraftKings and just purchased a massive stake in Wynn Resorts. He is in the process of building a new Las Vegas Strip casino resort.

It seems likely Hernandez will vote in favor of sports betting and expanded gambling.

Rep. Rafael Anchía

Anchía, D-Dallas, has shown some support of expanding gambling in Texas. In 2013, he sponsored House Bill 2197 to save the Texas Lottery Commission, one of the only forms of gaming in the state. The Sands PAC donated $6,000 to his last campaign.

While not an extensive record of gambling legislation, it seems Anchía is another possible proponent of legalized sports betting and expanded casino gambling.

Rep. Jay Dean

Dean, R-Longview, is another Republican who has shown a tendency to go against his fellow Republicans on expanding gambling. He is known as a champion of small business and job creation. Those attributes would align well with supporting gambling in the state.

Dean favored regulating game rooms and their locations in 2019 with House Bill 1404. He has also received campaign contributions from Texas Sands PAC and the Fertitta family.

While uncertain, Dean could support HJR 97 if he believes the measure will create jobs, help lower taxes and generate money for schools.

Rep. Ryan Guillen

Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, switched parties to become a Republican in 2021 after redistricting. He seems likely to favor expanded gambling and sports wagering in Texas.

Not only did Guillen receive a large donation from Sands PAC, $28,500, he also accepted a $3,000 contribution from the Fertitta family. Guillen recently sponsored House Bill 2345 with lobbying group Texans for Texas Hold ’em. It would change the language of the laws around poker rooms, clearly defining them as legal under the Texas Penal Code.

While not a sure bet, Guillen seems likely to vote in favor of HJR 97.

RELATED: Rep. Ryan Guillen Could Be Key To Legalized Gambling In Texas

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond

Raymond, D-Laredo, seems likely to vote to expand gambling and allow sports betting. He proposed House Bill 1457 in 2017 to legalize, regulate and tax daily fantasy sports companies.

Raymond also received a donation from Sands PAC for $6,000, and $5,000 from Texas state Sen. Carol Alvarado, who is sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 17, a piece of competing casino legislation. He also was given $1,500 from the Fertitta family.

Rep. Shelby Slawson

There is not much information to show how Slawson, R-Stephenville, could lean when it comes to HJR 97, but there are a couple of indicators that point toward her agreeing to pass the bill.

First, Slawson once voted in favor of House Bill 394, which would have expanded the Texas Lottery, so her voting record shows a willingness to side with expanded gaming in Texas.

Secondly, she has received a $3,000 donation from Texas Sands and $1,500 from the Fertitta family, which directly connects her to the push from lobbyists to expand casino gambling and legalize sports betting.

Rep. David Spiller

Spiller, R-Jacksboro, has a short voting history, having served in the House for only two years. In that time, though, he has received large donations from the Sands PAC and the Fertitta family.

With a $28,000 donation coming from Sands PAC and $1,500 from the Fertitta family, the short political career of Spiller seems directly connected to the potential legalization of sports betting and expanded gambling in the state of Texas.

Spiller should be a “yes” vote on HJR 97.

Rep. Chris Turner

Turner, D-Grand Prairie, has also received donations from the Sands PAC ($6,000) and the Fertittas.

He told the Fort Worth Report that expanding gambling “would be good for economic development and jobs, but the devil’s in the details.”

Member likely to vote against HJR 97

Rep. Will Metcalf

Metcalf, R-Conroe, has accepted donations from Sands PAC ($7,000) and the Fertittas ($4,000), but he voted against expanding gambling related to bingo in 2019. He said his opposition was due to the burden it placed on regulated industries. Expanding gambling would only create more regulatory agencies.

Despite the donations, it’s hard to envision him flipping to the side of expanding gambling in Texas.

Member extremely likely to vote against HJR 97

Rep. John Smithee

Many of the House State Affairs Committee members have the capacity to vote for HJR 97. Smithee, R-Amarillo, is not one of those.

Smithee has regularly turned down donations from entities lobbying for expanding gambling and has said Texas does not need more gambling

What are the odds of HJR 97 making it out of committee?

Looking at the 13 members of the House Committee on State Affairs:

  • Two of them are seemingly all-in for expanding gambling and bringing in sports betting.
  • Nine of them have a past political history that indicates they could be in favor or HJR 97.
  • Two of them will probably vote against HJR 97.

If that math holds up, HJR 97 could move to the House floor for a vote in its long journey to becoming law in Texas.

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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver, Colorado who covers the Denver Nuggets as a beat writer and the current gaming landscape in Texas. His byline can be found across many websites such as ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report, and others.

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