A new PlayTexas survey suggests that 65% of Texans would support a ballot measure to expand legal gambling in the state.
With California’s failure to pass sports betting legislation through the ballot, major interest groups will turn to Texas as the next battleground for legal gambling.
The Lone Star State has a storied gambling history. It may also be the most sports-crazed state in the country. However, while much of the country has large casinos and sports betting, Texans have few options to indulge those interests.
The state constitution outlaws gaming of nearly every kind. Moreover, the Republican Party, which dominates the political system, has anti-gaming sentiment baked into its platform. Only three tribal venues can offer any type of gaming.
PlayTexas survey demographics
PlayTexas conducted its survey in late October, asking Texans a series of questions about gambling expansion in Texas.
A demographic snapshot of the survey includes the following data points:
- Total responses: 750
- Age groups: 18-24 (16%); 25-34 (25%); 35-44 (29%); 45-54 (15%); >54 (14%)
- Gender: Female (59%); Male (41%)
- Margin of error: 4%
Most Texans support gambling expansion, preferably via casinos
Survey respondents were presented with a range of legal gambling options – including retail and online sports betting, retail and online casinos, daily fantasy sports and poker – and asked to select every option they would support.
While the results indicate that all respondents in favor of gambling expansion showed interest in all options, casino-focused options received the most support.
The top three choices from respondents:
- Casino gambling (20%)
- Large casino resorts (17%)
- Online casinos (16%)
PlayTexas survey results also indicated a significant drop in support from the three casino-based options to the two Texas sports betting options: 13% for online sports betting and 12% for retail sports betting.
Respondents see range of positive impacts from casinos
Survey respondents chose a range of reasons for preferring casino gaming. Top among them were job growth (35%) and tax revenue (31%).
The survey data kept with current gambling legislation filed by Sen. Carol Alvarado. In her most recent filing (SJR 17), metropolitan areas would be required to make a $1 billion or $2 billion investment in land and development, depending on the population of the area. This investment ensures job growth and a significant economic impact on the region.
Alvarado’s resolution authorizes tax rates of 10% of gross gaming revenue (GGR) for table games and 25% for slots. These rates would put Texas on the lower end of the tax scale for the country and make up a small fraction of the state’s $250 billion-plus budget.
The state’s Permanent School Fund, which provides direct funding to public education and underwrites the costs of various school bond measures, would receive a large portion of the revenue: 18%.
Easement of property taxes and education reform fuel push for casinos
When given a range of 10 common uses for gaming revenue based on other states with legal gambling, 18% of respondents prioritized education and 17% prioritized property taxes. These represented the top two responses in the list, and they correlate.
Connection between education funding, property taxes in Texas
In assessing real estate tax rate, average home price and average property tax rate, Rocket Mortgage calculates that Texans pay the seventh-highest property tax rate in the country.
This, in part, is because of the state’s small contribution to public education and its delegation of property tax collection to the counties. In this system, the majority of public education funding comes directly from property taxes, which are assessed by the counties with input from the school districts.
Allocating gaming revenue to statewide public education funding – through the Permanent School Fund – is a form of property tax easement. It takes away some of the financial burden of funding schools from property owners and returns it to the state.
Texans tired of traveling out of state to visit casinos
It’s no secret that Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico rely heavily on Texan traffic into resorts in those states. Ronnie Johns, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming and Control Board, even went so far as to thank Texans for the success of the casinos in the Lake Charles region.
While some Texans can take short jaunts across state lines to gamble, 28% of PlayTexas survey respondents would like to see the tourism boost brought by casinos in Texas.
This not only means more gaming options closer to home but also more jobs. Texans currently make up 60% of the workforce at Oklahoma’s Choctaw and Winstar casino resorts. Many commute from Dallas-Fort Worth, which is roughly 180 miles round trip.
A resort casino to rival the Winstar in Dallas could be a major quality-of-life boost for those people.
Texas has regularly supported gambling expansion
First of all, over the past decade-plus, polls have found that Texans support gambling at rates between 59%-74%.
In 2021, UT Austin and Texas Tech found that 59% of Texans supported legalized gambling and favored casinos. This poll came in below PlayTexas’ findings at a time when the state ran a significant budget surplus, and the Legislature had to address COVID-19 and the 2021 winter storm. As legislators noted that year, gambling got pushed to the margins in the face of more pressing concerns.
In 2011, Texans had the highest interest in legalizing gaming in recent history (74%). At that time, the state had a significant budget deficit, and various gambling-focused revenue streams populated the political discourse.
Today, momentum has grown since 2021, and, despite a projected budget surplus, legal gambling has moved out of the margins.
UPDATE: A Jan. 2023 University of Houston study found that 75% ofTexans support expanding legal gambling and 69% support some form of sports betting.
Pro-casino gaming interests have made their presence felt in Austin
Online sports betting operators have made their presence felt through sports team partnerships and a regular flow of TV ads.
Pro-gaming interest groups, like the Vegas Sands PAC, have maintained a presence in Austin while educating lawmakers on the perils of illegal gaming markets. Their work has begun to permeate public discourse, as evidenced by PlayTexas survey respondents’ identification of “crime associated with illegal gambling houses” as the second-most-favored reason to regulate the market.
Texans’ interest in casino development also aligns with the efforts of legislators such as Sen. Alvarado (SD-6) and Rep. John Kuempel (HD-44), who have put forth casino legislation over the past few sessions.
As noted, their legislation calls for the development of upscale casino resorts in the major metropolitan areas of the state.
In speaking with PlayTexas in July, Alvarado stressed the importance of these casinos being high-end.
“I’m not interested in adding any more eight-liner game rooms in the state,” she said, referring to the small-scale game rooms that are regularly hubs for illegal activity.
Those game rooms, which have been the targets of police raids for years, have cast a pall over casino gaming for many Texans. This is reflected by PlayTexas survey respondents’ interests in casino resorts and curtailing crime associated with illegal gambling houses.
Practical data must overcome moral outcry
A common refrain from anti-gaming pundits is that Texas does not need gaming revenue. They say that the state is doing fine without it, and the costs associated with gaming outweigh the benefits.
These arguments, which characterize the more socially-conservative lawmakers, do not reflect what the PlayTexas survey – and past polls – indicate about the citizenry. Namely, they would like the opportunity to gamble, they see the upside to extra state revenue and they value the protections of a regulated gaming market.
As such, pro-gaming lawmakers in the 2023 legislative session will be met with the challenge of selling an issue that the public repeatedly has said they want but lawmakers consistently have felt empowered to protect them from.
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