Senator Carol Alvarado has steadfastly filed casino legislation since 2009, including this year’s joint resolution, SJR-17, which would legalize resort casinos and retail sports betting.
At the moment, it represents the only piece of gambling legislation on file though at least one online sports betting bill is forthcoming.
In a recent interview with PlayTexas, Alvarado took aim at the opponents of legal casino gambling and reminded Texas voters that they have the power to choose.
Anti-gaming arguments stoke fear more than anything else
As the 88th Texas Legislature kicks into gear, Alvarado cautioned Texans about the “distractions” caused by anti-gaming rhetoric.
“As this effort continues to pick up support, the opponents will whip up all kinds of bogeyman arguments about the evils of gambling. Don’t be fooled by such distractions.”
These typical “bogeyman arguments” come in the form of concerns about increased crime in and around gambling venues. Some of this criticism derives from the current state of eight-liner game rooms in the state. While a few cities and counties have drafted ordinances to legalize game rooms, many Texas law enforcement agencies have cracked down on them, often citing the game rooms as nests for other illegal activities.
Though the state is grappling with how to effectively regulate game rooms, Sen. Alvarado’s legislation would do nothing to increase or decrease the number of them. Instead, her current legislation calls for “resort-style casinos” in the state’s four major metropolitan areas: Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, as well as casino gaming at horse and greyhound racetracks.
“The new facilities would be massive job creation and entrepreneurial activity hubs, producing tens of thousands of permanent jobs once they are up and running. This is all in addition to the economic boost from all the suppliers and vendors that would touch every corner of the state and the local tax revenue that would be generated. It’s the jackpot that keeps hitting.”
Problem gambling addressed directly in Alvarado’s legislation
In addressing the second major bogeyman put forth by legal gambling’s opponents, Alvarado touched on the specter of problem gambling that many social conservatives worry will aflict Texans if gambling expansion is allowed.
“The legislation also wisely includes provisions to protect Texans from the potential negative fallout of increased gaming. It would create a gaming commission to closely monitor and supervise the industry, gambling addiction prevention programs, and transparency of gaming operations.”
While opponents claim that legalizing casino gambling will bring about increased gambling addiction and other attendant mental health problems, Alvarado’s legislation actually creates oversight to protect against such gambling-related problems.
The reality is that in a state like Texas where many Texans already gamble regularly–both legally and illegally–programs to support gambling addiction are needed. Legislation like Alvarado’s is currently offering the most comprehensive option for a statewide increase in problem gambling services available.
Going to a casino comes down to personal choice
While providing the basis for a gaming commission to regulate resort casinos and monitor problem gambling, Alvarado ultimately believes the responsibility lies with all Texans.
“Any Texan can decide to never set foot in a gaming establishment. The point is that it should be your decision, not one imposed by the state.”
Ironically, Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, uses a classic Republican appeal–personal freedom and resistance from government oversight–to make her point. Indeed, she mentions numerous “polls that show that a majority of Texans want the opportunity to vote and decide on allowing gambling in Texas” to stress that opposition to gambling is out of step with Texas.
PlayTexas conducted one such poll, finding that a large majority of Texans support expanding legal gambling, and most favor resort casinos as their preferred legal gambling option.
Leaving the question to voters is a point many supporters of Alvarado’s legislation and legal gambling in general have made. Dade Phelan, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, even went so far as to say in 2021 that “all my constituents gamble.” Hyperbole aside, Phelan represents Beaumont, a small East Texas city that borders Louisiana and sees a steady stream of Texans flowing into and out of Louisiana to place bets and go to casinos. East Texans understand this reality perhaps better than anyone else.
Will casino legislation reach the November ballot?
The question is largely up to the Texas Senate. Currently there are 12 Democrats to 19 Republicans and any gaming legislation would require a constitutional amendment and a two-thirds vote.
While, at a national level, legal gambling legislation doesn’t always cut straight down party lines, the Texas Republican Party has strong anti-gaming language built into the party platform. As well, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick oversees the Senate, and he has historically expressed strong opposition to legal gambling. He has not outright opposed casino legislation yet this session, so he could be warming slightly to the prospect.
When asked, all things considered, how she feels about her chances, Alvarado said, “If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet that Texans would vote and pass the amendment in November.’