‘A Foot In The Door’ For Legalized Gambling In Texas

Written By Tyler Andrews on March 17, 2022 - Last Updated on July 18, 2022
Expanded gambling Texas, Las Vegas Sands PAC

Miriam Adelson is attempting to win the long game of legalizing casino gambling in Texas.

The widow of Las Vegas Sands CEO, Sheldon Adelson, is looking to alter the narrative in a state with some of the most restrictive gambling laws in the country through the Las Vegas Sands PAC that she funds.

The thought being the future of gambling in the US may roll with Texas.  

Sheldon Adelson, who passed away in January of 2021, began this endeavor by pumping millions of dollars into lobbying and ads in major markets promoting the benefits of legal casino gambling in Texas.

He pinned his hopes on passing legislation in the 2021 state legislative session. A pass would have paved the way for world-class resort casinos in four major metropolitan areas in Texas:

  • Dallas/Ft. Worth
  • Austin
  • Houston
  • San Antonio

The 2021 legislative session: A longshot for casino gaming

The legislation ultimately failed to make it to the floor in 2021. And this result precipitated two outlooks on the future of gaming.

From the more socially-conservative members of the GOP, like Rep. Matt Shaheen of Plano, the legislation appeared out of step with Texans. Shaheen said:

“It really fell flat [and] it just didn’t go anywhere. It was a bad investment on Sands’ behalf, and I think any future investments will continue to be a bad investment.”

On the other hand, for legislators with more exposure to the impacts of gaming, like Republican Speaker of the House Dade Phelan of Beaumont, the prospect of gaming represented a “long-term commitment.”

His experience with East Texans who already cross into Louisiana causes him to view Texas’s restrictions as ultimately a net loss in state revenue.

Beyond the political differences on the topic of legal gambling, the 2021 session was fraught with difficult decisions surrounding COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri. Both of which resulted in heated debate and a special session to reconcile the state’s recovery from these devastating losses.

The Sands group’s legislation is a huge and challenging alteration of the state’s legal landscape. And it didn’t make it to the floor of either the House or the Senate. Nor did it receive a committee hearing in the Senate to unpack its implications.

Consensus from lawmakers of Sands legislation: “These things take time.”

Furthering the need to play the long game in this political gamble was the fact that in 2021 the state’s budget projections looked much better than most people expected after what most considered a devastating year. As such, the need for increased revenue streams didn’t tempt legislators as much as expected.

The Sands Fund spent roughly $10 million on the 2021 legislative session. One of the biggest investments in legal gambling in state history. With the state legislature meeting only every other year for around five months, that’s a lot of money to hang on one outcome.

Most people in the Sands group fully expected the 2021 outcome. And they saw it as a foot-in-the-door opportunity more than anything else.

The Sands PAC and the 2023 legislative session

Miriam Adelson’s new PAC aims to keep the pressure on those legislators up for re-election this November. And it has already spread nearly half a million of its $2-million pledge over a few dozen primaries.

The goal is to propel those incumbents committed to the long-term goal of legalized gambling in Texas back into office in November.

The main target is Gov. Greg Abbott.

The PAC has already allotted $75,000 to his campaign. This comes a year after Sheldon Adelson wrote Abbott a half-million-dollar check. On the belief that Abbott’s tune was slowly changing over the question of legal gaming.

The Las Vegas Sands PAC hopes to change gambling restrictions in Texas
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a campaign stop, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Back in 2015, Abbott stated that he was “wholeheartedly” in favor of Texas gaming restrictions. But last year in a radio interview he suggested a more malleable tone.

On the topic of entertaining legislation over legalized gaming, he said:

“And so what we all need to hear is what is the voice and the pulse of our constituents, and one of the best ways to get that is talking directly to the members who will talk to their constituents about it.”

This spirit is at the core of the Sands group’s push. Putting the question to the ballot and letting the people decide

Other proponents: Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and Pete Flores

Aside from Abbott, the Sands PAC is investing big in Speaker Phelan who represents a strip of East Texas that shares a border with Louisiana, which recently legalized online sports gambling.

They are also heavily endorsing Republican Pete Flores, who lost his old seat in District 19 but is now running for a new seat under a redistricted section of central Texas.

He is heavily endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been one of the most avid opponents of the Sands legislation and legalized gaming in general.

Should Flores regain a spot in the Upper Chamber in the newly redrawn District 24, his influence on Patrick could be the sea of change needed to bring legislation to the floor in the 2023 legislative session.

Impact of expanded gambling on the Texas economy

Texas is the second-most populous state, and the impact of gambling on the economy could be monumental.

By comparison, New York, the fourth most populous state, legalized gaming in January. And their first month’s total gambling take exceeded $2 billion with $70 million in tax revenue.

What that could mean for Texans is exciting when considering high property taxes and the need for better public health care.

Beyond tax revenue, jobs created through a revitalized resort industry would represent permanent employment opportunities for thousands of Texans.

Both Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban are on board with the idea, with Cuban being one of legalized gambling’s biggest proponents in the past few years.

The long-game may payout in 2023 and the Las Vegas Sands PAC will be a major reason for that if it does. However, they are resolved to keep the pressure on beyond the next legislative session.

As they see it, the future of gambling in the country may go with Texas.

Photo by John Locher / Associated Press
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Written by
Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for PlayTexas, covering sports, sports law and gambling for the Lone Star State. He has also covered similar topics for a number of Catena Media's regional sites including NCSharp, PlayCA, PlayFL, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler is a Texas resident and currently specializes in covering gambling legislation and news in emerging US markets.

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