Texas Gambling Bills Progress Forward But Still Face High Hurdles

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Posted on: May 11, 2023, 10:26h. 

Last updated on: May 11, 2023, 11:15h.

An overwhelming majority of Texas House members on Wednesday gave initial approval for expanded gaming in the state. But several more representatives must throw their support behind the legislation in a final vote for the proposals to reach the state Senate.

Texas state capitol building
The Texas state capitol building in Austin, pictured above. Supporters and opponents of gambling are fighting it out in the House this week over two key gaming bills. (Image: TripAdvisor)

One of the bills, House Joint Resolution (HJR) 155, which permits the opening of several destination casinos, was supported by 92 representatives on Wednesday. Fifty-one House members opposed it.

The bill needs at least 100 favorable votes (two-thirds of the body) from the 150-member House at its second vote, likely to be held on Thursday. If the total falls short of 100, the legislation won’t be forwarded to the Senate.

Bipartisan Opposition

Wednesday’s opponents included a coalition of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans, according to Rice University political science professor Mark P. Jones.

Several Republicans who voted against the legislation highlighted the social consequences that commercial casinos would cause in Texas, Jones said. These include the risk of more human trafficking, spousal abuse, personal bankruptcy, child abandonment, and job absenteeism.

Some Republican opponents also objected to the “outsized role” of Las Vegas Sands (LVS), which has been lobbying heavily in favor of the bill, Jones told Casino.org. Opponents also raised LVS’ “ties to the Chinese government due to its casino operations in Macau,” Jones added.

Democrats who opposed the bill claimed it had the interests of large out-of-state corporations “in mind, rather than that of average Texans,” Jones said. There is a constitutional cap on the revenue the state would receive from gambling, and no requirements for unionized labor and minority-owned businesses during the construction of the casinos, and at the casinos, after they open, Jones said.

More opposition came because the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas has warned its Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass would be hurt by the presence of commercial casinos.

Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), was among the most vocal opponents to HJR 155.

“This bill is not going anywhere,” Shaheen predicted in published comments on Wednesday. “The Senate has not even given this a hearing. This is dead.”

Online Sports Betting Bill

A companion bill for online sports betting, HJR 102, also received initial House approval on Wednesday.

The vote was 97-to-44, but that bill will also need 100 or more “yes” votes at the second House vote in order for the legislation to head to the Senate.

HJR 102 also faced bipartisan opposition. Seven Democrats and 37 Republicans in the House voted against it.

“This is another bill that is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Jones predicted.

One of the bill’s key supporters, Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), remains hopeful the legislation will get an additional three or more votes in favor to reach the 100-vote threshold during the upcoming second vote, and then make it to the Senate.

Patrick Leads Senate Opposition

The outlook in the Senate for both bills is predicted to be dismal.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, remains opposed to the legislation.

Since the lieutenant governor has not said anything about changing his mind, regardless of what happens in the House, I believe casino gambling and online gambling are DOA in the Senate,” Jones said.

There is also a pressing deadline for the Senate to hold a possible vote. The regular legislative session ends in less than three weeks, on May 29.

If both two-thirds of the House and Senate approve the bills, the proposals would head to a November 2023 statewide referendum where residents would cast their votes.

Public opinion polls suggest that a majority of Texas voters would support expanded gambling in the state.

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