Proponents of expanding gaming options in Texas say they have a long game of play in this legislature and remain convinced that the GOP-led legislature could get to the issues that push them forward at the Capitol.
The gambling empire Las Vegas Sands, which launched an ambitious campaign this year to bring casinos to the state, has recognized the challenge of getting lawmakers on board with such a massive policy change – especially after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raised questions this week about whether the issue has enough support to get it far in the legislative process.
Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government affairs at Sands, told reporters Thursday that this skepticism was not affecting the company’s progress at that meeting and that he is confident that the company’s nearly 60-strong lobbying team will have enough in the legislature Changing opinions could at least make significant progress.
“We’ll see how things feel towards the end of the session later this spring,” Abboud said, noting that the gambling legislation could be tabled sometime next month. “I believe that if we do it effectively, we can change anyone’s mind.”
Sands was founded by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who passed away last month.
A broader gaming discussion has taken place in recent months, and when the legislative period began in 2021. Casinos aside, a push to legalize sports betting in the state has drawn attention. Several professional sports teams from the Dallas area, including the Texas Rangers, Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Cowboys, first made efforts to advance the issue in the legislature, the Dallas Morning News reported Monday.
Both gambling and sports betting were already facing spikes in the legislature – past efforts have not gotten far, and since both would require a constitutional amendment, they would need two-thirds of the support of the 31-member Senate and 150-member House to pass before going to the electorate in the state to decide.
Other wrinkles have appeared in the past week as well. Patrick, the head of the Senate, said Tuesday he doesn’t think sports betting has enough support to make it far into the upper chamber in this session. Later that day, a report that Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban had decided not to play the national anthem at home games this season sparked immediate backlash from Republicans and prompted Patrick to announce one of his top priorities at that meeting soon after : a bill requiring the national anthem to be played “at all events that receive public funding.”
“[Cuban] I just pulled the carpet out of every other sports team in Texas with this stunt, ”Patrick told Mark Davis, the Dallas radio host, on Wednesday. “There were already people who said, ‘Well why should I approve sports betting, these are people who don’t even get people to stand for the flag, why should I?’ Since it doesn’t make a lot of money for Texas, it makes a lot of money for them. “
Patrick has argued that the potential new tax revenue from the expansion of gambling would only help a fraction of the state budget and that if casinos are to advance their problem they should “sell it in tourism … sell it in jobs” – a point Abboud said Agreed on Thursday.
“To the [Patrick] Caution makes sense, ”said Abboud. “Because, unlike other industries, we need legal approval and voter approval. … That’s why we’re forming a grand coalition and [doing] everything we can to communicate the benefits of the jobs. “
Patrick also told Davis that if the casino theme is presented to the state’s GOP voters, “they’ll do it for big casinos, they’ll work all month” – not just sports betting.
Abboud said Sands speaks to groups that are pushing sports betting “all the time” – “Sports betting is … it’s part of the casino experience,” he said – and that the two will continue to work and “hopefully work together”.
“None of this really works if it’s a pain in the neck for lawmakers,” Abboud said. “So we’ve worked very hard to get as many of the existing interests here in Texas as possible into the same boat and row in the same direction. And we keep doing that, and I think we’re about there. “
Abboud said Thursday the company has also had productive meetings with other heads of state, including Governor Greg Abbott and the new House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.
“If they told us to skip town, we would,” Abboud said. “But they haven’t, so here we are.”
For his part, Abbott said in an interview last week that he wanted to “get a feel for where” members are on the matter. And Phelan has said casinos need to be treated as a “long-term commitment” rather than a short-term fix to the state’s financial forecast. In a statement accompanying the story, Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez reiterated that position, saying the speaker had “consistently stated that gambling will not fill the current budget gap”.
“Each Texas House member will bring their own perspective that will be considered by their communities when considering proposals to expand gaming and sports betting,” said Marquez. “Members should judge the merits of each proposal by whether it will have long-term value to the state and its counties.”
Still, Abboud is optimistic about the company’s chances – or at least progress – in this session.
“Does it happen in this legislative period? We’ll see, ”he said on Thursday. “Will it happen in the near future? It’s inevitable. “