• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

Casinos attack Texas with an army of gambling lobbyists

ByRobin H. Purcell

Nov 23, 2022

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott said in October that he was willing to consider expanded gaming options in Texas, the industry was trying to improve its chances in the state by handing out massive campaign funds and building an army of lobbyists in preparation for the legislature starts in January.

According to state records, more than 300 lobbyists are now registered in Texas to work on gambling issues, led by Las Vegas Sands, which added another just last week and now has 72 — the most lobbyists in Texas for any single group or company .

You are hardly alone. A newly formed sports betting alliance, BetMGM, Caesar’s, Boyd Gaming and Landry’s Entertainment, along with sports gaming companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, have all invested in what many in the gaming industry see as their best opportunity to do business in Texas in decades.

One reason is Abbott’s newfound willingness to listen to Texas gambling options. In October, he told Hearst Newspapers through a spokeswoman that he was willing to listen to suggestions.

“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to lose money they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” said Renae Eze, Abbott press secretary. “But if there’s a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Governor Abbott would look at it.”

While it’s a long way from an unqualified green light, it’s a world away from where Abbott has been in the past. In 2015, Abbott said he “wholeheartedly” supports the state’s tough laws against gambling expansion, essentially thwarting any attempts to prosecute casinos or online sports betting options that have spread to other states over the past four years .

In 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned a law that had effectively banned sports betting in most states. Prior to this ruling, only Nevada had legalized sports betting. Since the ruling, more than 30 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of sports betting.

Proponents of expanded gaming in Texas say the state is missing out on billions of dollars in tax revenue spending residents in neighboring states like Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico, all of which have casinos.

But Abbott wasn’t the only stumbling block in Texas. Lt. gov. Dan Patrick, a Houston-area Republican who oversees the Texas Senate, made it clear in 2021 that expanded gaming would not “see the light of day” in the Texas Senate. He then said it just didn’t have the votes in a Republican-dominated body.

As head of the Senate, Patrick has sweeping powers to prevent laws from reaching the floor of the chamber for debate or a vote.

But the industry continues to send campaign donations to Patrick and others in Texas to improve their chances when the Texas legislature meets.

Earlier this year, Las Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino company, formed a Texas Sands Political Action Committee to help fund candidates in Texas. His biggest recipient since then has been Texans for Dan Patrick, who has received $225,000 from the group, including a $75,000 donation in late September, according to state campaign finance records.

Overall, the PAC gave nearly $1.8 million this year through 216 donations to 126 Texas politicians, including both Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House and Senate.

Abbott received $200,000 from this group but was also a favorite of the late Las Vegas gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, who since 2020 have collectively paid Abbott another $1.5 million for his re-election win over Democrat Beto sent to O’Rourke.

The Texas constitution prohibits expanded gambling, meaning the Texas legislature would have to put the issue through a Texas referendum to even consider a casino or sportsbook plan. The state had restrictions on gambling dating back to 1856 and updated the statutes in 1973 to include one of the toughest prohibitions on gambling in the nation.

Still, the state opened up to horse racing in the 1980s and launched the Texas Lottery in the early 1990s. But attempts to allow casinos have died in the legislature for decades with little fanfare.

The Texas Republican Party remains opposed to expanded gambling. During the summer, party leaders approved a new platform that included provisions against casino gambling.

State Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has already introduced legislation to open up the state to casinos and sports betting. Under their proposed joint Senate Resolution No. 17, up to four “destination resorts” would be allowed in metropolitan areas of at least 2 million people, in addition to limited casinos at horse and dog tracks in Texas and a permit for Native American tribes to operate casino games and slot machines.

Meanwhile, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe Of Texas has the state’s only Native American casino in Eagle Pass. Lucky Eagle Casino is located on the tribe’s reservations and operates under federal regulations due to the tribe’s status.