Democrat Beto O’Rourke said if he’s elected governor he’s “inclined to support” expanding casino gambling and legal sports betting in Texas, the first time he’s publicly addressed the issue on the trail.
During a press conference in Dallas, O’Rourke said Texans are already going across state lines for casino gambling and sports betting and Texas is losing out on billions of dollars in revenues that are going to other states.
“From listening to Texans across the state, it’s one, a very popular proposal, and two, it would also help us address some of the challenges we have in reducing inflation and property taxes in the state,” O’Rourke said. “So I think that warrants a very close look and it’s something I’m inclined to support.”
O’Rourke’s has also talked about legalizing marijuana to produce more revenues for the state budget. The combination of additional money from gambling and marijuana would allow the state to reduce reliance on property taxes to fund the government.
But getting it done is no easy feat in Texas where the Republican-held legislature hasn’t given the issue much serious consideration at all.
Currently, the Texas Constitution prohibits the expansion of gambling, a provision that current Gov. Greg Abbott has supported and defended in the past.
To change the constitution, casino backers would need to get two-thirds of the House and Senate to support putting a measure on the ballot.
In addition the Texas Republican Party’s platform specifically declares opposition to any expansion of gambling: “We oppose and call for a veto of any budget that relies on expansion of legalized gambling as a method of finance.”
Still, gaming interests from outside of Texas have been hiring lobbyists and making big money donations to Texas Republican leaders over the last few years trying to get lawmakers to consider expanding gambling. The late Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino tycoon, sent $5 million in campaign donations to Texas politicians over the six months before he died in early 2021 to influence GOP leaders, including Abbott.
Before last year’s Texas legislative session, casino companies left no doubt how important Texas is to them.
“Texas is considered the biggest plum still waiting to be out there in the history of hospitality and gaming,” said Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government relations for the Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Neighboring states New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana all have legal casino gambling. Louisiana and Arkansas both have legal sports betting.
Texas has Native American casinos. The Lucky Eagle Casino is on the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas reservation in Eagle Pass. It operates under federal regulations because of the tribe’s status.
Still, despite all the pressure on Texas to expand gambling, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, said in February 2021 that there was no chance the Texas Senate would expand gaming options.
“It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session,” Patrick said then.
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