The Sands PAC sent donations totaling $132,000 from July 1 to Sept. 29 to Texas lawmakers’ campaigns. Most of the money went to Democratic incumbents, though $50,000 went to Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-election effort.
As the money indicates, Sands is ramping up the pressure, the focus and likely the marketing around legal gambling in Texas.
Abbott playing it close to the vest
The governor has indicated recently that he might be open to discussing legalizing commercial casinos in Texas. In an election year, candidates typically play it close to the vest on controversial topics, legal gambling being one. That silence usually lifts after they take office.
Las Vegas Sands is banking on this with their contributions to Abbott.
Gubernatorial opponent Beto O’Rourke endorsed legal gambling back in April, while Abbott remained quiet on the issue until recently.
Despite O’Rourke’s favorable position on gambling, Sands is betting on two things – Abbott holding his lead over O’Rourke and his position evolving on legal casinos and sports betting.
In both cases, Sands’ bets look strong.
Big check coincides with softening stance
Miriam Adelson, Sands’s majority shareholder, directly contributed $1 million to Abbott on top of the $50,000 check from the Sands PAC.
This endorsement came weeks before Abbott announced his warming to resort casinos in Texas. Abbott’s statement specifically suggested interest in “professional entertainment options” (read: upscale casinos).
This is in keeping with current legislation on legal casinos filed by Sen. Carol Alvarado. Her senate bill makes room for four casinos in the four major population centers of the state – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
Abbott’s implied interest in these retail casinos puts him more in line with Sands’ casino-focused lobbying efforts. It has also not hurt him in the polls, where he continues to hold around a 6-point lead with less than a week to the election.
No donations to Patrick and Phelan this cycle
Top lawmakers like Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not receive money from Sands during the most recent cycle of funding.
Both had each received $150,000 from Sands during their runoff elections in April.
Phelan, who has endorsed legal gambling in the past, is running unopposed in this election. Polls suggest Patrick stands a good chance of beating Mike Collier on Nov. 8. He has staunchly opposed gambling since taking office. His position, even more than Abbott’s, will indicate the prospect of legal gambling in Texas.
The remaining contributions, with the exception of a $10,000 check to Sen. Alvarado, ranged from $3,000-$5,000. Per campaign finance documents, the Democratic incumbents in the Texas House to receive contributions from Sands this cycle were:
- Rhetta Bowers (D-Rowlett)
- Terry Canales (D-Edinburg)
- Harold Dutton (D-Houston)
- Erin Gamez (D-Brownsville)
- Ana Hernandez (D-Houston)
- Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston)
- Tracy King (D-Uvalde)
- Joe Moody (D-El Paso)
- Sergio Munoz Jr. (D-Palmview)
- Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso)
- Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston)
- Ramon Romero Jr. (D-Fort Worth)
- Toni Rose (D-Dallas)
- Carl Sherman (D-De Soto)
- Shawn Thierry (D-Houston)
- Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)
- Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie)
- Armando Walle (D-Houston)
Next steps for Sands
Patrick, as the leader of the Texas Senate, controls committees, mediates floor debates and otherwise oversees the Senate. If Sands is earnest in its bid to pass any gaming legislation, they will need him to soften his position.
They could bring this about through another big check or through pressure mounted by their legion of lobbyists. Last legislative session, they had over 70 lobbyists working regularly in Austin. The same or more are expected in 2023.
What will also likely increase is money spent on pro-gambling marketing campaigns. Texans didn’t see much of this in 2021 due to the hasty nature of Sands’ involvement in the previous legislative session and the pressure to address the winter storm and COVID. Expect more gambling ads this year.
Lawmakers can also expect an increase in educational resources on the risks of the illegal offshore market and the billions of dollars Texans already spend there.
There is also the indirect impact of the California elections, which feature two sports betting measures. Both of them have fizzled out over heavy opposition from tribal groups, and if they both fail, eyes will likely turn to Texas as the other major market that has yet to legalize any form of gambling.
In short, Sands will be a major player in a more concerted effort to present the case for legal gambling to Texans.