Texas Sands PAC Injects Nearly $2 Million Into Texas Primary Races

Written By Phil West on April 29, 2024
Miriam Adelson high fives Mark Cuban. Her TX Sands PAC donated heavily to Texas primary elections.

Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and part of the Dallas Mavericks ownership group, donated $4.1 million to a Texas political action committee ahead of March’s primaries.

The Texas Sands PAC sent $1.9 million to Texas House candidates who could lead efforts to pass pro-casino legislation in the upcoming 2025 legislative session.

Largest donation from Sands goes to House speaker

Texas does not allow most forms of gambling, including retail and online casinos. However, sweepstakes and social casinos are available to players in Texas. They offer slots and table games like an online casino, but they use virtual dollars. Sometimes, prizes from playing can be redeemed for real money or gift cards.

Las Vegas Sands has been donating to candidates in Texas for the last several years in its effort to legalize casinos in the Lone Star State. In the March primaries, WFAA-TV, jointly reporting with the Dallas Business Journal, said the largest amount given to a candidate, $200,000, went to House Speaker Dade Phelan.

The Beaumont Republican is in a battle against Donald Trump-endorsed David Covey in District 21. Phelan, who raised the ire of conservative Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton by leading efforts to impeach him last year, will learn if he’ll return to the speaker’s dais in a May 28 runoff.

Should Phelan be ousted, it’s possible his replacement in what’s shaping up to be a more conservative House will be less friendly to gambling legislation. In the most recent 2023 session, the House passed a sports betting bill, but it died in the Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick controls the Texas Senate. He is an anti-gambling Paxton ally who also supports Covey.

Donations given to pro-casino candidates in House

Other House candidates who received donations included state Rep. John Kuempel, who received $110,000, according to Texas Scorecard.

“A key proponent of growing the gambling footprint in Texas … [who] like Phelan, Kuempel finds himself up against a field of challengers, including Alan Schoolcraft, who enjoys the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott and heavy financial backing.”

Six more incumbent House candidates who joined Kuempel in authoring casino legislation in the 2023 legislative session also received donations to their campaigns last month: Reps. Stephen Allison, Harold Dutton, Richard Hayes, Justin Holland, Lacey Hull and Hugh Shine. Each received donations of $79,000.

Finally, Rep. Charles Geren, who proposed commercial casino legislation last session, received $60,000.

Professor says ‘momentum is building’ to expand gambling in Texas

Political experts across Texas are taking note of Sands’ recent efforts in angling for legal gambling in Texas.

University of Texas political science chair Jon Taylor recently told KABB-TV in San Antonio that he thinks Texas may soon expand gambling.

“Momentum is building, and I think the momentum is building too positively for casino gambling. The Sands company who owns obviously the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, among other things, would not have purchased 61% of the Dallas Mavericks if they did not think that casino gaming was not coming to Texas at some point in the near future.”

Taylor said Texas is being squeezed on all sides.

“Let’s be honest, there’s another driving angle here that we need to consider. And that’s the fact that the state of Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico – they all have some form of gambling of some sort. And so, to be honest, we’re missing out on revenue.”

Gambling legislation still faces ‘long odds’ next year, expert says

But in the same article, Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report took a more cautionary stance.

“This is always a big challenge. I think the fact that the House, for all intents and purposes, seems to be moving further to the right after these Republican primaries, it complicates this even further.”

Braddock pointed out the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of any gambling legislation in Texas.

“The specific challenge for casinos is that because it requires a constitutional amendment, two thirds of the House and two thirds of the Senate would have to vote to approve it, and then send it to the people.”

He went on to characterize the effort as facing “long odds.”

The Texas Destination Resort Alliance is currently collecting online signatures to gauge voter support.


Image Credit: Tony Gutierrez / AP Images

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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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