Las Vegas Sands Hires 51 Lobbyists in Texas as Casino Legalization Debate Continues

Posted on: January 28, 2021, 06:45h. 

Last updated on: January 28, 2021, 01:37h.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. has 51 paid lobbyists working in Texas to promote the legalization of commercial gaming in the Lone Star State. Late last year, before the recent death of CEO Sheldon Adelson, Sands employed 10 lobbyists in Texas.

Experts disagree on whether supporters of legalized gaming in Texas have a winning argument
Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations at Las Vegas Sands Corp., shown above. Abboud is leading the company’s lobbying effort to legalize casinos in Texas. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The latest number works out to between $2.3 million to $4.5 million spent on lobbyists by the company, based on information from the Texas Ethics Commission, according to The Texas Tribune, an online news site.

“To the best of my knowledge, this now makes Sands the second-largest lobbying group in Texas after AT&T,”  Clyde W. Barrow, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, told Casino.org.

This is one of the most aggressive pushes for a bill we’ve seen in a while,” said Brandon J. Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. He further told Casino.org that Houston, the largest city in Texas, has only a third of that many lobbyists working at the state Capitol.

Earlier legislation to legalize casinos failed. But with the lobbyists and changing political conditions, this year it may have a better chance at passing, some political observers contend.

Other experts disagree. They believe the state will not soon enact a law to legalize commercial gaming.

Las Vegas Sands can spend as much money on lobbyists as it wants. But that isn’t going to change the fact that without Adelson leading the charge, casino gambling legislation has no realistic hope of passing this session,” Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told Casino.org.

“Casinos need Texas more than Texas needs casinos,” Earl Grinols, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Baylor University and a former senior economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, said he when spoke to Casino.org,

Deficit, Unemployment Reasons for Texas Casinos

But Barrow countered that there are still several reasons why the state may enact a gaming expansion law. He points out that the state government continues to project a biennial deficit, even though recent deficit projections are better than expected.

Second, Texas unemployment is still very high, he argues. Casinos can lead to thousands of new jobs and recapture gambling dollars now lost to nearby states where gaming is allowed, Barrow said.

Texas public opinion has been overwhelmingly in favor of legalized casino gambling for more than a decade, Barrow said. For example, earlier this month a University of Houston poll revealed that 58 percent of Texans favor allowing full casino gambling in the state. Overall, 70 percent back legalizing and taxing casino gaming.

But Jones countered there are multiple hurdles to get such a bill approved in Texas. The bill must first get the support of at least two-thirds of both the Texas House and Senate. It would then need to be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

Jones acknowledged while it would “easily pass” in a statewide vote, it is unlikely the state’s politicians would support it.

“A full one-third of Texas Republicans want to leave the gambling laws as they stand, or reverse them.” Jones said.

Currently, many Texans go out of state to gamble. Or, they can visit one of the state’s relatively small tribal casinos.

Texas Cops Seize Illegal Gaming Machines

Those who opt for illegal gambling have options, too. Last week, two police raids in Hood County led police to seize 88 illegal eight-liner machines, according to KXAS, a Fort Worth TV station.

“This is commonplace in Texas, particularly in the border counties where so-called ‘machinatas’ — illegal slot machines — proliferate like bluebonnets in March,” Barrow explained. “It’s simply another measure of the strong public demand for Las Vegas-style casino gambling in Texas.”

Jones agreed about the proliferation of such illegal gaming operations. But it does not mean it will lead to legal gambling in the state.

“Eightliners (video poker machines) are as much a staple of Texas corner stores and game rooms as are Mrs. Baird’s fruit pies,” Jones added.