Las Vegas Sands conquers Abbott
By Mark P. Jones
Big supporters of the governor, they have his endorsement to legalize Casino Gambling in Texas. A survey validates the historical turn. Lieutenant Governor Patrick resists.

 Texas represents the last great frontier for the gambling industry in the United States. The state's constitutional ban on casino gambling has historically simply proven to be too high a hurdle for the casino gambling lobby to surmount. Conditions have changed over the past few years however, and due to an aggressive lobbying campaign spearheaded by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation combined with a high degree of unity among the pro-casino forces in Texas, who have often been divided in the past, 2023 could be the year that casino gambling finally comes to Texas.

Today, the principal forms of legal gambling in Texas include the Texas Lottery, charitable bingo, horse and greyhound racing at a limited number of racetracks, and three small casinos offering electronic bingo on tribal land. Legislation is however under debate in the Texas State Legislature, whose biennial regular session runs from January through late May, that, if passed, would profoundly alter the casino gambling landscape in Texas. Bills have been filed by Fort Worth Republican Charlie Geren (HJR 97) in the Texas House and by Houston Democrat Carol Alvarado (SJR 17) in the Texas Senate, which while not identical, do share many common components.

Both bills would create a limited number of destination casino resorts in Texas of varying number and size, with most likely two massive destination casinos in the three largest markets (Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston, San Antonio) and single casinos in the smaller markets of Austin, Corpus Christi, and the Rio Grande Valley. This would be in addition to the state's three tribal casinos in East Texas, Eagle Pass and El Paso, which would be permitted to become full-scale casinos along the lines of those that would be in operation elsewhere in the state.

Latinos for the third time

The Las Vegas Sands and its owners have been very active over the past few years contributing money to Texas politicians and hiring an army of dozens of lobbyists for this legislative session. The Las Vegas Sands and its owners have over the past two years contributed $1.7 million dollars to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, $325,000 to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and $225,000 to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

The Las Vegas Sands and its owners have over the past two years contributed $1.7 million dollars to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and $325,000 to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan.

The Las Vegas Sands has also contributed money in amounts generally ranging from $6,000 to $30,000 to 126 of the 150 representatives currently in the Texas House and to 26 of the 31 senators currently in the Texas Senate. Tilman Fertitta, the Houston-based billionaire owner of the Golden Nugget casinos and of Landry's hospitality empire has also been actively promoting casino gambling along with dozens of other companies and groups.

A recent survey by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs found that 75% of Texans support this casino gambling legislation, 80% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans along with 83% of Blacks, 77% of Latinos, and 73% of Anglos. And, for the first time in modern Texas history, the Governor, Greg Abbott, and the Speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan, have publicly supported casino gambling legislation, specifically casino gambling legislation such as that contained in the bills filed by Alvarado and Geren that would prioritize destination casinos and not result in dozens of small casinos or slot machines in every corner store and gas station.

For either Geren or Alvarado's bill to pass it, as a constitutional amendment, needs to receive a super-majority -at least two-thirds of the vote- in both the Texas House and Texas Senate. If it does, then it would appear on a statewide ballot as a constitutional amendment in November, where it needs only a majority of the vote to pass, and polls indicate that it would easily win a majority.

Mientras Trump esté vivo

The principal obstacle to the passage of the casino gambling this year is Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who exercises an iron level of control over the Texas Senate. Patrick has traditionally been opposed to casino gambling, believing that the economic benefits provided by casinos are often outweighed by their negative social costs caused by gambling addiction and excessive gambling such as personal bankruptcy, child abuse, spousal abuse, foreclosures, homelessness, human trafficking, and job absenteeism.

The principal obstacle to the passage of the casino gambling this year is Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who exercises an iron level of control over the Texas Senate. 

However, while Patrick has not publicly indicated that he is in favor of casino gambling like Abbott and Phelan, neither has he categorically ruled out the possibility of casino gambling legislation passing this session.

In late May, when the regular legislative session ends, we will know whether or not if in 2024 most Texans who have always had to fly to Las Vegas or drive to casinos right across the state line in Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico and Arkansas will instead be able to head to a bigger and better casino less than an hour away from their home.

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