Legislation to permit casinos and sports wagering in Texas has not yet amassed the necessary votes to pass in the state Senate, according to the powerful Lieutenant Governor of the Lone Star State, Dan Patrick. Patrick claims that there are not enough Senate Republicans in support of the gambling bill for it to move forward. He told Lubbock, Texas radio station KFYO on Thursday that, “We don’t have the votes in the Senate as we sit here today.”
In order for the bills to successfully progress, 21 of the 31 state senators must vote in favor of the legislation. This would mean nine Republicans joining forces with the 12 Democrats to back gambling expansion. Both the Senate and House of Representatives must approve gaming expansion with two-thirds of their members’ support in order for it to move to a required state referendum. Despite this, Patrick has set the number of Republicans needed in the Senate even higher; he believes 15 or 16 Republicans must back the legislation for it to be put to a statewide vote, since he does not want the perception of Democrats leading the charge.
There is still time left before the current legislative session concludes in around three months for legislators to alter their view on gambling. Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has proposed Senate Joint Resolution No. 17 which would create a path for up to four destination resorts, smaller casinos at race tracks, and casino games and slots at tribal gaming properties. Governor Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan are more amenable to gambling expansion amongst Republicans. The House is more likely to approve casinos and sports betting than the Senate. House Bill 2843 by Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, and House Bill 1942 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, have been written and would enable casino gambling and legal sports betting, respectively.
The House State Affairs Committee held a hearing this week on expanded gambling, where proponents and opponents of the bills were heard. Leach argued that illegal sports betting is rife in Texas, with no taxation or regulation, and that hundreds of citizens, including minors, are easily placing illegal bets especially during March Madness. The Sports Betting Alliance estimates that Texans are already wagering more than $6 billion on sports. Other proponents at the hearing included those representing the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Astros, San Antonio Spurs, as well as the PGA Tour.
Opponents of gambling expansion argued that gambling can lead to family violence and other problems, as well as leaving families without enough money for basic necessities. The casino sector, including Las Vegas Sands (LVS), are working hard to get commercial gaming properties in Texas, with over 300 lobbyists representing the industry, and LVS having 69 lobbyists alone. LVS’ political action committee has contributed to the campaigns of leading Republicans, including Phelan ($300K), Patrick ($225K), and Abbott ($200K).
The future of gambling in Texas is still uncertain, and it remains to be seen whether the necessary votes to pass the legislation will be reached before the legislative session ends.