Longtime Observer Of Texas Legislature Calls Gambling ‘Thorniest Issue’ Of 2025

Written By Phil West on March 7, 2024
Image of thorns for story on Dallas Morning News columnist saying gambling will be thorniest issue for Texas Legislature in 2025

As a Dallas Morning News columnist who has been with the paper since 1980, Sharon Grigsby has seen a lot of changes in Texas.

The fourth-generation Texan is well aware of the momentum created by Mark Cuban selling a majority interest in the Dallas Mavericks to the owners of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which wants to build casino resorts in Texas.

Now, noting that “our state is the crown jewel, the location everyone is delirious to crack,” Grigsby predicts that legalizing gambling “could be the thorniest issue the Legislature confronts in 2025.”

Columnist says ‘big money is being thrown around’ to legalize gambling in Texas

Commercial casinos, along with online casinos, remain illegal in the Lone Star State. Texas sports betting is also illegal, though the Texas House has twice passed legislation that would have allowed residents to vote on legalizing sports wagering. The measures died in the Senate. The Legislature next convenes in 2025.

Grigsby is not optimistic lawmakers will pass gambling legislation next year, but she says it’s not out of the question.

“The pro-casino forces probably won’t win in the next session, but I wouldn’t bet against them. Mighty big money is being thrown around.”

She cited a report from the Texas Tribune, which noted that at one point early in the 2023 legislative session, “Las Vegas Sands had 69 lobbyists registered with the Texas Ethics Commission, with the value of the contracts totaling well into the seven figures.” She sees that as an indication of how serious the Mavericks’ new owners are about changing lawmakers’ minds on gambling.

Last month, Sands COO Patrick Dumont shared the company’s vision with the Dallas Morning News.

“We believe very strongly that there’s an opportunity to develop destination resorts in the state of Texas, at some point, over the next years. I don’t know how long it will be. I couldn’t tell you, but I’m hopeful about it. People tell us that they would like to see it happen, which is nice. It feels like we have good support from certain areas.”

Grigsby noted that “visions have grown regarding a casino and sports complex” in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The Sands Corp. now has parcels of land in both Dallas and Irving that could house destination resorts.

Christian fundamentalist could influence lawmakers, Grigsby says

Grigsby does see a major obstacle for gambling legislation in 2025. She said, “West Texas billionaire oilman and political kingmaker Tim Dunn” could stand in the way.

“The Christian fundamentalist and lay preacher opposes gambling, and it’s hard to imagine those beholden to him switching sides. Dunn is also a big supporter of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is president of the Texas Senate and has maintained Republicans won’t support gaming.”

However, she surmises the Legislature could also be swayed by “promises of more jobs, larger tax revenue and growth in local retail sales” that have influenced other states’ decisions to expand gambling.

Sports betting could also be an issue in 2025

It’s not just casinos, either. Grigsby recalled that in 2023, “a coalition of professional sports teams and betting platforms lobbied for mobile sports betting.”

The Texas House advanced sports betting bills in 2021 and 2023 only to see them ignored in Patrick’s Senate.

Gambling legalization does have an unexpected ally: former Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

“Texans deserve to vote on legalizing sports betting, and we will continue working to put this initiative on the ballot in 2025.”

Perry is the primary spokesperson for the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition described on its site as a group of “professional sports franchises, pro sports leagues, racetracks, motorsports, and betting platforms to legalize and regulate sports betting because Texans deserve the freedom and safety to enhance the experience of the sports they love.”

Photo by Shutterstock
Phil West Avatar
Written by
Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

View all posts by Phil West