Texas is unique in many ways. It is the only state to have the flags of six different nations fly over it. It is home to the second largest canyon in America. And it is one of just four states left – including Montana, Nevada and North Dakota – where the legislature still meets biennially.
Lawmakers who could make a difference
While gambling remains illegal in Texas per the Texas Constitution, the 2023 legislative session could see that change.
If this happens, one or all the following seven legislators will have something to do with it.
Carol Alvarado (D-Houston)
Sen. Carol Alvarado is a major proponent of legal gambling in The Lone Star State.
First elected in 2008 to the Texas House of Representatives, in 2018, she was elected to represent Senate District 6 in Harris County in the Texas Senate. Her support to legalize gambling goes as far back as 2009, when she first introduced legislation to put gambling on the ballot.
In 2021, she filed Bill SJR 49. It would have included the creation of the Texas Gaming Commission. Among its duties would have been issuing casino licenses and authorizing sports betting. Because the 2021 legislative session ended with SJR 49 dying in committee, Alvarado is re-introducing a similar bill, SJR 17, by pre-filing it for the 2023 session.
Another major component of SJR 17 is allowing four casinos in the Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth areas. Alvarado recently outlined the key components of her bill.
“Now is the time to let voters decide on legalizing casino gaming across Texas. Texas loses billions of dollars a year to our neighboring states that allow gaming, and this measure would bring that revenue back to Texas, create tens of thousands of jobs and cut down on illegal gambling.”
Rep. John Kuempel (R-Sequin)
As a six-term legislator representing House District 44, Rep. John Kuempel represents the interests of Guadalupe and Wilson counties in the greater San Antonio area.
As vice chair of the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee, which has jurisdiction over the regulation of gaming industries, Kuempel has significant influence in the future of gaming in Texas. His 2021 bill, HJR 133, filed as a companion to Alvarado’s bill, also did not receive a vote. Kuempel is trying a different tact for 2023.
It centers on educating all stakeholders about what gambling could mean for Texas. In a recent Fort Worth Star Telegram article, Kuempel said teaching is his focus in 2023.
“[I’ll be] educating my colleagues [and] educating the public of what it means. Trying to paint the picture of what we’re trying to do. My focus is capturing those dollars and keeping it in our state.”
He has yet to file companion legislation to Alvarado’s SJR 17, but it’s likely he will do so.
Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston)
Rep. Huberty has served Harris County since 2011, and is often recognized in state media for being one of the top legislators in the state. In 2021, Rep. Huberty sponsored two pieces of sports betting legislation, one of them in partnership with Sen. Hinojosa.
Huberty’s best legislative effort came with HB 2070, which had the support of the Sports Betting Alliance, a group of sports team owners and sports book operators. This legislation would have legalized both retail and online sports betting and set a 10% tax on all sports betting revenue.
The Sports Betting Alliance has worked with legislation writers to draft a new resolution for 2023. They have not yet announced the bill’s sponsor, but Huberty, due to his experience and respect within the Texas House, could be tapped to sponsor it again.
Sen. Morgan LaMantia (D-South Padre Island)
After securing the Democratic nomination to represent District 27 in the Texas Senate, a seat vacated by the retiring Democrat Eddie Lucio Jr., Sen. Morgan LaMantia defeated her Republican opponent by just 569 votes.
While that margin was razor-thin, the financial support her campaign received was not. According to TransparencyUSA.org, a campaign spending watchdog group, LaMantia spent $5.7 million compared to her opponent’s $411,236.
Raising money through political action committees and from her own family, LaMantia’s campaign was one of the richest in this year’s campaign season.
Her family made its fortune in the beer distribution business. Lately, it has increased its interests in the Texas horse racing industry. That is why she is a key piece in the legal gaming puzzle.
Those anticipating that 2023 will be the year that legalized gambling comes to Texas are hoping that LaMantia will walk the same line as her predecessor. Lucio was not only one of the state Senate’s most vocal supporters of legalized gambling, he also sat on the State Affairs Committee. All gambling and sports betting legislation is sent there.
Will LaMantia end up in the same high-leverage position on the committee? That decision will be up to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) &
Sen. Roland Guiterrez (D-San Antonio)
Both Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Sen. Roland Gutierrez introduced bills in the 2021 Legislature that died before they got to a vote.
Hinojosa’s SJR 39 was aimed at making sports betting legal, while Gutierrez’s SJR 36 was focused on permitting the licensure of up to 12 casinos in various metropolitan areas across the state.
Neither of these senators have pre-filed any bills related to gambling for the 2023 legislative session. Both, however, remain firm supporters that legal gambling should be put on the ballot.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R)
As head of the Texas Senate, Patrick is the de facto gatekeeper of where and when bills will be sent to what committees. For that reason, he is the major player when it comes to the outcome of casino gambling and sports betting legislation in the 2023 legislative session.
In a radio interview from February of this year, Patrick, who has historically been against gaming legislation, may not need to exert much effort to keep the issue off the ballot.
“Usually, most issues are two-sided. There’s so much infighting and competition amongst all the people in that arena. That’s why it never goes anywhere. It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session.”
But his sentiment still didn’t stop him from accepting a fairly large check from Texas Sands PAC. It’s unknown if the money will ultimately soften him toward the prospect of legal gambling.
Speaking of PAC money
According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, Texans spend more than $2.5 billion a year gambling in casinos, mostly ones in neighboring states. With that kind of potential revenue and more if the state were to legalize casino gambling and sports betting, Las Vegas Sands has been making numerous contributions to Texas legislators through its PAC.
Formed in February, Texas Sands PAC has spent more than $2 million so far to support various Texas politicians, including all of those listed above. Contributions range from $225,000 to Patrick down to $8,000 for Gutierrez.