Texas Gambling Proposal May Earn Beto O’Rourke Votes in Governor’s Race

Posted on: April 28, 2022, 05:18h. 

Last updated on: April 29, 2022, 01:35h.

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke said earlier this month he would consider enacting expanded gaming in the state. If somehow, despite the odds, it gets approved, that could mean Texas’ first commercial casinos and sports betting.

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke on the campaign trail, pictured above. He floated the idea of gambling expansion. (Image: KENS)

The suggestion was seen as a relatively insightful political move by O’Rourke, watchers of the state’s political scene told Casino.org. But they caution it remains unlikely to be enacted anytime soon.

O’Rourke, a former US Representative who gained national attention presidential campaign and US Senate race loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, commented during a press conference. He argued that expanded gambling could lessen property tax increases and could help fund local schools.

“This is a good issue for Beto to raise since a majority of Texans favor opening the state up to casino gambling,” Mark P. Jones, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told Casino.org. He notes only a quarter of those polled recently opposes any expansion in gaming.

“As a candidate who needs to draw a nut straight to defeat [incumbent Gov.] Greg Abbott, R, in November, Beto can’t afford to leave any stone unturned,” Jones said. “Given the combination of Texans’ love of gambling, along with the tax revenue legalized casino gambling would bring in for the state, it is a good issue for Beto to highlight — even if it only gains him a relatively small number of voters in the fall.”

Patrick Likely to Block Legislation

Still, incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R, is likely to be reelected in November for a third term, Jones said. Patrick also will likely have a super-majority of either 19 or 20 Republican senators in the state Senate. There are 31 total senators.

Patrick has consistently opposed casino gambling and has not indicated that he has changed his opinion on the issue,” Jones cautioned. “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick [also] will continue to run the Texas Senate with an iron hand and a strong majority during the 2023 legislative session.”

So, it is likely casino gambling will once again be dead on arrival in the 2023 biennial legislative session, Jones predicts.

In addition, Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist, cautions that O’Rourke is counting his chickens before they hatch.

Texas incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, R
Texas incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, R, pictured above. He faces Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in November. O’Rourke has floated the idea of expanding gambling in the state. (Image: Getty Images)

Getting expanded gaming past a conservative legislature is one thing. Winning the governor’s mansion in red Texas in a midterm year is quite another,” Rottinghaus warns.

He praises O’Rourke’s effort to identify issues that Texans generally favor, like expanded gambling. O’Rourke can then use them to show how current politicians are out of touch, Rottinghaus reasons. But there are roadblocks ahead for O’Rourke.

Also, even if O’Rourke were to win the governor’s race, he would face a politically divided government, Rottinghaus said.

Advocates of expanded gaming might find favor with about half the House chamber, he added. “But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is much harder to budge [in the Senate],” Rottinghaus cautions.

Social Conservatives Remain Wary

Texas social conservatives continue to be worried about the negative moral and economic impact of gambling, he added.

There are enough of them in leadership and in both the House and Senate to make expanded gambling a tough bet in the next legislative session,” Rottinghaus predicted.

Last year, it also was revealed in a University of Houston Hobby School survey that one-third of Texas Republicans are opposed to any expansion of gambling in Texas. Many are likely to have long memories.

“The conventional wisdom is that these anti-gambling Republicans could potentially turn out to punish any Republican, who supported casino gambling in a future Texas Republican primary,” Jones said.