Texans interested in legal gambling shouldn’t dwell too much on the midterm election results. While a seat or two in the House and Senate may turn in favor of legalized gambling, the landscape is mostly unchanged.
Legal gambling isn’t a red or blue issue
Texas has no commercial casinos, and online casinos are prohibited in The Lone Star State. Most Texans are forced to leave the state to gamble at casinos in neighboring states.
If California’s two failed sports betting ballot measures are any indication, legalizing gambling doesn’t reside in the strength of one political party over another.
The issue is fraught with local and statewide interests. Sports betting interests in California fought a harsher battle against tribal groups than against any single political party.
Most pro-gambling money went to GOP in Texas
In Texas, where the Republican Party has anti-gaming rhetoric baked into the party platform, the major recipients of gambling interest groups’ money have been Republicans.
The Las Vegas Sands PAC, which has donated millions to Texas politicians over the last two and a half years, has given most of it to Republicans. The reason is simply that they’re the ones pulling the levers.
The top five recipients of Sands’ money have been:
- Speaker of the House Dade Phelan ($300,000)
- Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ($225,000)
- Gov. Greg Abbott ($200,000)
- Sen. Pete Flores ($60,000)
- State Comptroller Glen Hegar ($50,000)
Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who lost to Abbott in the governor’s race, never received a dime from Sands.
Key players haven’t changed
All of the above candidates won their re-election bids, with Phelan running unopposed. In this scenario, Texas’s predictably Republican-dominate government actually works in favor of legal gambling interests despite language in the party platform to the contrary.
In speaking with PlayTexas, Cara Gustafson, communications director for Sports Betting Alliance, explained that the SBA had remained in Austin after the last legislative session closed. It continues to educate state legislators on the need for regulated sports betting.
This education has continued into the lead-up to the 2023 session. The focus, Gustafson said, has been on the growing illegal market that is siphoning billions out of the state and growing at a rapid rate.
What groups like the SBA and the Texas Sands PAC have emphasized over the last two years is the continued education of lawmakers around the need for regulation.
A blue shift has never been the prerogative of these groups. As Gustafson sees it, they are confident that existing lawmakers, through education around the growing illegal market, will come to appreciate the need for a legal regulated market.
Expect lawmakers to soften on legal gambling
A week before the November election, Abbott, who has received roughly $1.5 million from the Texas Sands PAC since 2020, said that he was open to the discussion of casino expansion in Texas.
This continued a trend of him softening on the issue over the last few years. Texans can expect a similar softening from legislators now that the pressures of re-election have lifted.
The legislator to watch, as we approach January, is Patrick. As PlayTexas has reported, Patrick oversees the Texas Senate and plays a major role in all legislation making it to the floor. He has been perhaps the most vocal opponent of legal gaming legislation of those in high positions of power. He does, however, have an influential pro-gaming support in Tilmann Fertitta.
PlayTexas has reported on Fertitta’s interests in the hotel industry in both Texas and Louisiana, and his support of Patrick will likely curry favor for legal casinos in the state. Fertitta, as the owner of the Houston Rockets, is also a member of the Sports Betting Alliance.
Added to his casino interests, this makes Fertitta a vocal and influential advisor to the lt. governor and one that could turn Patrick toward the benefits of a legal, regulated market.
New faces could shift the landscape
At least one new legal gaming proponent could boost the odds of gaming legislation making it to the floor.
Morgan LaMantia, who appears headed for victory in a razor thin race in SD 27, has horse-racing ties. She also received the largest campaign contribution from Texas Sands of any Democrat.
PlayTexas expects her presence in the Texas Senate to be one that fills the void of Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., whose seat she is poised to fill. As the final votes come in, PlayTexas will keep this story updated.
Right now, legal gambling in Texas is a toss-up
With two more years of lobbying and educating under their belts, pro-gaming interests are planning to spend heavily in Texas. Right now, the state looks like a toss-up as to whether legal gambling legislation will reach the finish line.
Despite that, it is a lock to be the next major battleground for the expansion of gaming in the country.