In this three-part series, we’ll look at how Texas’s neighbor states – Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico – could be impacted if the Lone Star State legalized gambling. Interestingly, all three states allow some form of legalized gambling.
Part 1: Oklahoma
If Texas ever legalizes casino gambling, the state would immediately become a big, if not the biggest, player in the US gaming market. How would legal gambling in Texas impact neighbor Oklahoma?
A recent survey by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that 57% of Texans support legalized casino gambling. Only 29% oppose it.
Should legislation make it to the Texas Capitol floor for debate in 2023, and should that legislation pass, the effects of such a shift in gambling law would have obvious implications for neighboring states. Of course, what form legalized gambling takes in Texas is an unknown variable.
Gambling in The Sooner State
Oklahoma has just two commercial casinos. But it has more than 130 tribal casinos and gaming venues. Like Texas, it does not allow online betting.
The state’s two commercial “racinos” (horse tracks that offer electronic gaming machines) would likely not feel much impact. The two, Remington Park in Oklahoma City and Will Rogers Downs north of Tulsa, are not close enough to the border to attract much Texas traffic. Also, they’re relatively small operations. They sport 1,000 gambling machines between them.
Major tribal casinos like the Winstar and Choctaw, however, would have significant competition from Texas. The American Gaming Association’s 2022 State of the State’s report noted that:
“While Oklahoma borders no less than five states that offer commercial casino gaming, the primary competitive threat to the state’s gaming market comes from potential legalization in Texas.”
Legal gambling in Texas worries Oklahoma
Oklahomans have expressed concern over Texas legalizing gambling for years. In 2009, the Norman Transcript addressed the potential growth of tribal casinos in Texas.
“Texans routinely cross into Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana for gaming. A positive vote by Texas lawmakers could open the door for them to stay home, negatively impacting money flowing to Oklahoma’s coffers.”
Step foot in the Winstar or Choctaw casinos, and you immediately see Texas’s influence. The felt on the poker tables, the restaurants, the banners, and the gift shops all heavily endorse Texas sports.
Nearly equal distance from Dallas, the Winstar and Choctaw are the two titans of Oklahoma tribal gaming. The Winstar is the official casino of the Dallas Cowboys and FC Dallas. The Choctaw has deals with the Rangers, Mavericks and Stars.
The Choctaw Tribe even bought the naming rights for the old Globe Life Park in Arlington. They also recently unveiled a $600 million resort expansion. The Winstar is the largest casino resort in the world. Texans are a huge part of their success.
OK’s dependence on Texas gamblers and workers
Oklahoma depends on Texas gamblers. It can be seen in two key ways.
First, there’s the revenue. Clyde Barrow, Political Science Chair at UT Rio Grande and longtime research analyst of casino gambling, said in a report that Texans account for “the vast majority of gambling activity in Oklahoma.” He estimates that Texans spend between $2.5 and $3 billion annually at OK casinos.
Most of that goes to the big two: Winstar and Choctaw. Compare that with the AGA’s findings that tribal casinos in Oklahoma bring in roughly $2.7 billion annually in revenue. It’s clear that Texas is fueling the industry.
Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy also pointed that out in a recent report.
“This is no surprise. The DFW Metroplex has 6.4 million residents. When you add in adjacent areas of North Texas, the total population in the region is twice that of the entire state of Oklahoma.”
The Dallas Morning News, among others, estimates that as much as 80% of Winstar and Choctaw’s patrons live in Dallas.
Along with the economic hit to OK if Texas legalized casino gambling would also be employment impacts on the border casinos.
In 2019, 60% of Winstar’s employees lived in North Texans, a total of 2,300 jobs. That number likely has increased as Winstar has continued hiring. A casino in Dallas would be attractive to these Texas-based workers who now commute 80 to 100 miles.
Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who has been spearheading gambling legislation since 2009, envisions 70,000 new and sustainable jobs for Texans if the state opened casinos in its four most-populated cities.