The Texas Republican Party released a resolution “to be distributed to every Republican member of the Texas Legislature” urging them to stop all efforts to legalize gambling, specifically casinos, in Texas.
This resolution, released March 17, came days before the first pieces of gaming legislation in the 2023 legislative session are scheduled for committee hearings.
Texas commercial casinos and Texas sports betting are outlawed under the state Constitution. Moreover, the current Texas Republican Party platform (as well as previous iterations of the document) includes specific language opposing the expansion of gambling.
Despite the platform, various efforts in the House and Senate, filed by Republican lawmakers, attempt to amend the Constitution to allow for resort casinos and retail and online sports betting.
Texas Republican Party platform’s long history of gambling opposition
Going back to at least 2010, the Texas Republican Party platform has included explicit language condemning gambling expansion “as a means of financing state government.” It appears the newly-released resolution is meant to recall this principle to current lawmakers.
As the platform has been updated every two years, similar anti-gaming language remains consistent. Within this language lives the socially-conservative values of members of the GOP, such as the Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission which opposes gambling on moral grounds, and the fiscally-conservative belief the state need not rely on any money earned from immoral activities such as gambling.
Despite the unequivocal wording of the platform, the document is non-binding, and Texas Republicans over the years have supported gambling expansion. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, is among the GOP legislators who have backed gambling despite the party’s opposition. Before him, retired Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, supported expanded gambling as a viable way to lessen the deficit the Legislature faced in 2012.
Current legislation in the Texas House and Senate feature Republican sponsors, confirming that the issue of gambling, as seen in states such as California, does not necessarily cleave along party lines.
Four House bills on State Affairs Committee calendar
The Texas House State Affairs Committee is scheduled Wednesday to hear four pieces of legislation that address casino gambling and sports betting.
House Joint Resolution 155
Sponsored by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Forth Worth, this resolution would amend the state constitution to allow for up to seven resort casino licenses in major metropolitan areas in the state where existing pari-mutuel racing licenses are already in place. It would also permit retail sports betting at licensed casinos. Geren’s bill has the support of the Las Vegas Sands PAC, one of the largest lobbies in the state and one that has donated millions to Texas politicians over the past few years in hope of passing casino legislation.
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House Bill 2843
Sponsored by Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, who previously co-sponsored casino legislation with Sen. Carol Alvarado, HB 2843 represents the enabling legislation for Geren’s HJR 155. It concerns the formation of the Texas Gaming Commission, licensing procedures for Texas casinos and provisions for Texas’ three recognized tribes to offer gambling.
House Joint Resolution 102
Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, HJR 102 works with Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s Senate Joint Resolution 39 to authorize online sports betting in Texas through a constitutional amendment. The bill was drafted with the assistance of the Texas Sports Betting Alliance to offer online sports betting through the state’s 12 professional sports teams, as well as the PGA and two horse race tracks.
House Bill 1942
Functioning as enabling legislation for HJR 102, HB 1942, also sponsored by Leach, includes the language necessary for regulating sports betting, including the requirement for permits, the costs for licensing and renewal fees, provisions for penalties and the labeling of criminal offenses for people who violate the new law, and the imposition of a tax on sports betting.
Favorable committee hearings could mean landmark events for Texas Legislature
Should any of these bills receive favorable committee hearings and the approval of the State Affairs Committee, they would be on their way to possible floor debate in the Texas House of Representatives, where sports betting has never previously been debated.
For that to become a reality, the House Committee on Calendars will need to take the favorable committee report into account, and place the legislation in question on the general calendar for full debate on the House floor.
Should the new resolution by the Texas Republican Party achieve its desired effect, Texans will know soon. The State Affairs Committee comprises an 8-5 Republican majority.