Texas Sees Progress, But No Approvals, On Gambling Expansion


Legal casino hopes for 2023 in Texas died in the span of about 30 seconds Friday when bill sponsor Rep. Charlie Geren stood up and said, “Members, I do know when it’s time to fold ’em.”

He then made clear that not only had he been unable to gather the super majority of legislative votes needed to send a decision on gambling expansion to voters, but that he didn’t expect to have them in the next legislative session in 2025 either. Geren’s proposed constitutional amendment was one of two gambling proposals that died on the House floor Friday.

The Texas Legislature meets only in odd-numbered years, and with just about two weeks remaining in this year’s session, legalization of casinos has proved a complex issue that Texas lawmakers are not yet sold on. The House has entertained several gambling-related bills this session, including last Thursday when it sent a sports betting-only joint resolution to the Senate for consideration.

If it gets Senate approval, HJR 102 would land on the ballot this November for voters to decide if they want legal sports betting in Texas. It would allow for wagering through licenses held by sports entities such as the state’s pro teams and the PGA Tour. Rep. Jeff Leach’s bill passed on a vote of 101-42, receiving just one vote more for approval than the required super majority.

HJR 102 was received Friday by the Senate, where Lt. Gov. President Dan Patrick serves as  president and has been an opponent of gambling expansion. Patrick tweeted Saturday that “there is little to no support for expanded gaming from the Senate GOP.”

Though it appears highly unlikely the bill will get out of that chamber, Leach wasn’t conceding that point.

“I look forward to building on our success with … our Senate colleagues to get this legislation across the finish line and allow the voters a voice in whether we have a legal, regulated sports betting market in Texas,” Leach said in a statement, according to the Texas Tribune.

Not a win, but good progress, stakeholders say

Geren’s constitutional amendment allowing a vote on casinos had a deadline to be approved by the House by the end of Friday at midnight. On the House floor, where two amendments were added Thursday, the bill received 92 “yes” votes, eight short of the number needed.

HB 2843, a second gambling bill that would have allowed for eight destination casino resorts around the state, was also withdrawn from consideration. Bill sponsor Sen. John Kuempel said he planned for the bill to be revisited on Nov. 29.

I’ve said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP. I polled members this week. Nothing changed. The senate must focus on issues voters expect us to pass. We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support. HB1942 won’t be referred.…

— Office of the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (@LtGovTX) May 13, 2023

Despite lack of legislative approvals, stakeholders have noted the progress seen this session, as both sports wagering and casino legislation made it to votes on at least one chamber floor.

The second-biggest state in the nation is attractive to gaming officials of all sectors, who say they’ll continue to educate lawmakers. The Las Vegas Sands Corp., as one example, has flooded the state with lobbyists over the last several years.

“Our efforts to bring destination resorts to Texas took an extraordinary step forward with the vote in the Texas House of Representatives,” Sands Senior Vice President of Government Relations Andy Abboud said in a statement. “Although it narrowly fell short of the two-thirds threshold of support required for a constitutional amendment, there is no question that our efforts are on the right track.”

Photo: John Riviera/Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales