Politics can be more of a pay-for-play business than gambling. But when it comes to expanding gambling in Texas next year, a premier figure in the industry took care of providing the necessary capital.
A casino holding company of billionaire gaming mogul Sheldon Adelson is targeting the Lone Star State in its push for expansion in 2021.
However, this expansion may not include sports betting and other types of gambling.
Vegas Sands targets Texas for gambling expansion
The Las Vegas Sands Corporation has retained the services of several lobbyists with connections to the state government in Texas. The list includes Gavin Massingill, chief of staff to outgoing House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Adelson’s casino empire has made no bones about its desire to open properties in Texas and what effect that would have in the state.
“They are job creators, they hire a lot of additional employees, they have tremendous purchasing power,” Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands’ top lobbyist, said during a conference hosted by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “But they are also tremendous generators of tax revenue.”
The state currently faces an estimated $4.6 billion budget deficit. Abboud conceded that licensing fees and tax revenue would not make up for that entire shortfall. But he also stated that Las Vegas Sands views Texas as the “biggest plum” still out there.
Currently, Abboud and his colleagues are focusing on brick-and-mortar casino gaming. In regard to sports betting legalization, it is more of a “walk before you run” approach.
Will legalization push include Texas sports betting?
The latest indications suggest that may be a bridge too far in 2021.
Trying to turn the Texas gambling landscape from a few limited tribal casinos and the lottery into more of a gambling mecca, replete with retail casinos on top of iGaming and online sports betting, may result in none of the above verticals getting the green light.
Another person with connections in Austin concurs with that line of thinking. Phil Cox, a Republican strategist and the co-founder of lobbying firm 50 State, spoke about Texas sports betting in a Global Gaming Expo virtual event Dec. 10.
“Texas, like many other states, is facing (a) significant budget gap of like $4 to $5 billion of a $200 billion budget, which is a big budget,” Cox said. “My read right now, and I’ve talked to the governor about this, is that he could potentially go along with it. He doesn’t love it but he would go along with it.
“I think the issue is Lt. Gov. (Dan Patrick), who has a lot of influence in the (Texas) Senate, is not in favor (of legalizing sports betting) right now, and will likely block it. I don’t know. We’re going to see and keep a close eye on that process as we go forward.”
A strategy could be to focus on casinos now and repeat this process for sports betting in 2023. But just getting Austin on board with casinos may prove challenging enough.
What are the chances for casino gaming in 2021?
Given the resistance of influential people like Patrick, the most likely path may be a constitutional referendum. In 2019, Rep. Joe Deshotel proposed exactly that for casinos in some parts of Texas.
However, Deshotel’s bill never emerged from its first committee assignment. But it suggests some level of bipartisan support for gaming.
The main question is whether Adelson’s political donations, like a $4.5 million gift in September to help the GOP hold onto its majority in the state legislature, will buy him enough favors. Adelson seems fine with investing more funds in the state if it gets him the result he wants.
The Las Vegas Sands Corporation believes the time is right to challenge resistance to gambling expansion. Because of that pushback, though, the push seems unlikely to include sports betting.