Texas Casino Gambling Legalization Continues to Divide Politicians

Posted on: January 26, 2022, 03:03h. 

Last updated on: January 26, 2022, 03:42h.

A recent debate among Republican candidates vying for Texas’ 122nd House seat shows legalization of commercial gambling remains a controversial issue. The politicians offered conflicting stands during the San Antonio forum.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, pictured above. The Republican remains opposed to commercial casino gambling in the state. (Image; Texas Tribune)

Four candidates — Adam Blanchard, Elisa Chan, Mark Cuthbert, and Mark Dorazio — participated in last week’s North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum. The incumbent Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) is not running for reelection.

San Antonio is one of four Texas communities where gambling expansion advocates, during the last legislative session, wanted to place a commercial gaming property. Other cities are: Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

Cuthbert, a financial services executive, wants the issue voted on by Texas residents in a referendum.

People should be “free to engage in their pleasure and how they spend their money,” San Antonio Report, a local news organization, quoted Cuthbert. But he added that he was “deeply, deeply conflicted” on the issue.

Stronger support for casinos came from Blanchard, who is a business owner. He noted how tax dollars are now going out of the state to neighboring regions with legalized gaming.

If we have the means of building up other revenue sources that can help us combat this property tax issue, why aren’t we doing it?” Blanchard was quoted by the Report.

Other business owners running for the seat appeared more skeptical. Dorazio asked, “What is the true cost-to-advantage we have to suffer for somebody who has a brother-in-law — like myself — who was addicted to [gambling] and lost his family?” A

Chan also said the issue should be looked into.

Commercial casino gambling cannot be made legal in Texas without the support of at least two-thirds of the members of the Texas House and two-thirds of the members of the Texas Senate. That would sent send it to a popular vote.

Popular Opinion

As of January 2021, a University of Houston Hobby School poll found that 58 percent of Texans favor allowing full casino gambling in Texas. Another 18 percent support a limited expansion of gambling on the state’s three Indian reservations and at existing horse and dog tracks.

In addition, Las Vegas Sands supports gambling expansion in Texas. The company lobbied for pro-gaming legislation.

When asked about the issue, Mark P. Jones, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, predicted on Tuesday to Casino.org that “gambling legalization will remain an issue in Texas politics until such time that casino gambling is legalized.”

Political Risks

“However, a full one-third of Texas Republicans want to leave the gambling laws as they stand (or reverse them), and even pragmatic Texas Republicans have some concern that, were they to vote in favor of casino gambling, that the vote could harm them in future Republican primaries,” Jones said.

Many Republicans oppose the expansion of casino gambling in Texas for principled reasons, Jones adds. They view gambling as a sin, or a contributor to social and economic problems, Jones explained.

In addition, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, “remain adamantly opposed” to casino gambling, Jones said. “If Patrick, in particular, does not support a bill, its prospects of even reaching the Texas Senate floor for a vote, let along garnering the requisite two-thirds majority, are about as close to zero as you can get without being less than zero.” Both Abbott and Patrick are likely to win reelection this November.

Thus, barring a budget crisis of epic proportions over the next four years, all signs today are that casino gambling legislation remains dead on arrival in Austin,” Jones said.

But Clyde Barrow, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, told Casino.org that the Texas legislature will come back into regular session in January 2023. “At that time, I expect casino legalization to be back on the table,” he said.