The Lone Star state is one of a very few states without licensed and regulated gambling
Texas has long been known as one of the states that has opposed gambling expansion. With more than 40 states offering some type of gambling, the time is now for Texas to license and regulate gambling operators.
The state has long had legalized horse racing, charity bingos, a lottery and a small remote tribal casino in Eagle Pass that offers a few slots, poker and bingo but little else. There are two smaller Tribal casinos in El Paso and Livingston that offer bingo and some slots, but the state has tried to shut those down stating they violate state law. The state also technically has not legalized DFS, but DraftKings never withdrew from the sate and advertisements for the daily fantasy sports website are prevalent at Houston and Dallas sporting events. FanDuel withdrew from Texas when state prosecutors threatened the DFS sites in 2016. However, any suggestions of a larger commercial casino or sports betting has been met with opposition and scorn.
Most gaming operators recognize that a casino in Houston and/or Dallas would be a gold mine, and while most bids have failed to get traction, a major lobbying effort by Sheldon Adelson in 2020 before the election and his death could not be ignored. Adelson and his company gave almost $5 million to Texas House Republicans to ensure the state remains Republican and hinted that he expected quid pro quo. Despite his passing there is an indication that LVSC along with his wife, who has inherited most of his multi-billion-dollar assets, expect the Republican House to live up to the unwritten agreement. Adelson and lobbyists noted that despite the belief that Texas was extremely anti-gambling, polls showed that over 60% of Texans supported casinos and/or sports betting and that residents travel to nearby states to gamble anyways, with over $5 billion being bet in neighboring states. This is in addition to the amounts being wagered online and offshore.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has been reluctant to take up the bidding despite being a friend of Adelson's and said that the few million dollars that casinos and sports betting would bring into the economy wouldn't even scratch the surface of the huge deficit in the state caused by the coronavirus. Despite legislation on the table, Patrick refuted the significance of it and told local media that he was not in favor of gambling and that there is really no support for expanded gambling.
"We don't even have a bill that has been filed in the Senate on the issue," Patrick told a radio station. "When you don't even have a sponsor, it's not even a bill you spend much time on or think about . . . I don't spend much time on it because the members are just against it."
And as for sports betting, Patrick also indicated that despite bills introduced by Rep. Harold Dutton and Senator Roland Gutierrez, the issue was a no go and as far as he was concerned and it likely would never see the light of day. But analysts noted that recent events may force Patrick to reconsider.
The election of Joe Biden, who has already begun his climate control agenda, could make the Texas oil industry less lucrative in coming years and the state may have to look at other options for revenue and jobs. In fact, the state has already begun shutting down some oil refineries. And, while it’s true that taxes raised from gambling may not be that high in relation to the state’s total revenues, the thousands of good paying casino and sports betting jobs that it would generate may be a public selling point that the Senate leader and the Attorney General just can’t ignore. The state also can’t ignore the fact that the demographics of the state are changing. Texas is seeing a huge influx of younger, more educated and more technologically skilled individuals from other states and they will not buy into the religious arguments to suppress advancements.
The fact that Texas was considered a battleground state in the last election and that Trump lost badly in Houston and its suburbs has to be a wakeup call to state legislators that they could no longer dictate morals to their citizens and expect their votes. As well, a push by Texas sports teams, including a recent coalition of the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks, to lobby for legal sports betting can’t be ignored. After all, Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban are far more popular and relevant to state voters than is Dan Patrick (who barely won his seat) or other Texas representatives. And Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Charlotte Jones was clear that given recent events it was time to legalize sports betting.
"Unregulated and illegal sports gambling is already taking place in the State of Texas," Jones said to the Dallas Morning News as the reason for the coalition. She noted that 25 states have already legalized sports betting, and that number will only climb. The beliefs of the coalition are in line with the NBA, MLB and NHL themselves that have changed their stance on sports betting and have welcomed it for their leagues as a way to generate more revenue. Even the NFL has stopped its official opposition to sports betting after the Supreme Court repealed PASPA in 2017.
I spoke to two Texas residents who I’ve had contact with before on gambling issues in Texas, one who lives in The Woodlands and the other who lives in Amarillo, and asked them about their opinions on expanded gambling in the state. It should be noted that Craig, who lives in The Woodlands has always been in favor of casino gambling, while Peter who lives in Amarillo is a sports betting buff, but isn’t so convinced about the need to legalize casino betting.
"I came from a fairly religious background," Craig said, "and having grown up attending an evangelical church as a child and teenager, I never got involved in gambling. I lived most of my life in Florida where gambling was fairly common and that's where I met my wife. She introduced me to the Tribal casinos there and an occasional excursion to Tampa Bay Downs. I grew to love slots play and when we moved to Texas it was disappointing to realize how difficult it was to gamble. Eventually Internet gambling became available and we set up offshore accounts to play casino games, but even prior to that we would make a day trip to Louisiana every couple of weeks to play our favorite slot games. To us it made no difference whether we were spending a couple of hundred dollars on a restaurant and movie, or in my case a round of golf, or whether we had a nice meal at the casino and put money into the slots. The difference was that often we would return with more money from the casino than what we went with, while I never had more money in my wallet after going to a movie or playing a round of golf. And believe me I'm not alone. The Coushatta and Golden Nugget Casinos, which are our favorites, are filled with Texans. I would easily say that for every car with a Louisiana license plate in the parking lot there are 3 cars with a Texas license plate. And you can't drive 50 feet in Houston without seeing an advertisement for these casinos. I would rather keep my money in Texas, but with no real alternative I travel to Louisiana to play the slots and I don’t lose a second of sleep over it."
Peter who lives in Amarillo said that while he enjoys the slots occasionally, the big outlet for he and his friends is sports betting.
"We had offshore accounts for years and set up an account at DraftKings for fantasy sports, but we always questioned why we could not bet on games in the United States legally. We did take an occasional trip to Las Vegas, but it was a full day's drive, so we only did it for major events like the Super Bowl or the NCAA championship game. So, we were thrilled when we found out that sports betting was now legal in the United States, but obviously that excitement was dampened when we heard Texas was not going to opt-in. It was very disappointing, but I was not surprised. It seems like our state has always been a police state when it comes to morals. I find it funny that I can legally carry a 10mm Glock into the supermarket, but I could be arrested for playing poker with friends or putting a bet on the Cowboys. Mind you, I grew up in Brooklyn so it is a completely different way of life."
Peter went on to say, "Anyways we have found comfort in learning that New Mexico legalized sports betting. So every couple of weeks we simply drive from Amarillo to the Santa Ana Casino and place our bets. If we leave at 8 am we can be there in time to bet on and watch all the games and still be home in reasonable time. It’s a very pleasant drive too and when they offer remote sports betting, as they are discussing, we would just have to cross the state line to bet. I can be in Clayton in less than 2 hours. My bud who lives near Texarkana goes to Arkansas all the time to bet on games now and he is really happy that legal sports betting in Louisiana isn't far away. He said he could be in Shreveport in about 30 minutes from his home. It just makes no sense to keep something illegal when every place else around us has legal betting. Our state is just shooting itself in the foot for no real purpose or gain, but then again I've longed stopped trying to figure out the politics of Texas.”
So, the state of Texas must make a decision regarding legalized casino and sports gambling. While the state has always considered itself ultra-conservative and aligned with the religious right, the times are changing. Residents and now even sports teams owners want the state to reconsider and with the new tide, politicians in the state will have to listen to the voters if they want to keep their seats.
Without a doubt if Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban start pitching to the public for legalized sports betting, it will be far more important than whether Dan Patrick or even Ted Cruz petition for the other side. And if the legislators believe that they will never be replaced being the deep red state they are, they only need look to Georgia to see that isn’t true. For the state to change ways they will need to pass a constitutional amendment so look for the lobbying on both sides to intensify and a ballot question to be put to the public at some point. But with all neighboring states likely to legalize all forms of gambling shortly and with the state in a financial crunch, the legalization of sports and casino gambling in Texas only makes sense.