Bills to expand gambling access in Texas clear House committee
Gaming advocates are pushing to legalize casinos and sports betting in Texas. The committee votes represent more progress than the proposals made last legislative session, when they got hearings in committee but were never voted out.
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A Texas House committee advanced the two main proposals to expand gambling in the state Monday, giving them a burst of momentum even as they continue to face long odds in the Senate.
The movement represents more progress than the proposals made last legislative session, when they got hearings in committee but were never voted out. Gaming advocates, including the casino empire Las Vegas Sands, have been targeting Texas as their next frontier for two sessions in a row now.
Without discussion, the House State Affairs Committee approved legislation Monday afternoon that would let voters decide whether to legalize casinos and online sports betting in Texas. The votes were all 9-3, with Republicans making up the opposition.
Yet the legislation still has a long way to go. The expansion of gambling would require changes to the Texas Constitution — requiring two-thirds majorities in both chambers. That seems increasingly unlikely, however, as the Senate has signaled little appetite for the bills.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the powerful presiding officer of the Senate, has long thrown cold water on the prospects of expanding gambling in Texas. And in recent media appearances, he has dug in, pointedly saying the Senate lacks the GOP support he wants to see for either proposal.
If approved by voters, House Bill 2843 would permit casino gambling in Texas, and House Bill 1942 would legalize online sports betting, such as on cellphones. The casino bill would additionally allow sports wagering.
The committee members voted on a revised version of the casino bill, known as a “committee substitute,” that featured a key change that could be an attempt to appeal to Patrick. It would set aside a large chunk of gaming tax revenue to fund a new university endowment fund that Patrick has proposed and prioritized this session.
The casino legislation is backed by Las Vegas Sands, which has spent millions of dollars since 2020 on lobbyists, TV ads and campaign contributions in Texas.
“The efforts to bring destination resorts to Texas made significant progress with today’s vote,” Matt Hirsch, a spokesperson for Sands’ lobby effort, said in a statement. “Texans have made it clear that they want destination resorts in Texas, and we are now one step closer to ultimately allowing them to decide on this issue.”
The three Republicans who voted against advancing the gaming proposals were Reps. Shelby Slawson of Stephenville, Will Metcalf of Conroe and John Smithee of Amarillo.
Both bills received a hearing late last month that featured familiar arguments surrounding expanding gaming in Texas. Proponents said that it would be an economic boon, while opponents warned of societal harm by increasing gambling addiction.
As for the revised version of the casino legislation, it says 80% of the tax revenue it generates could be allocated to the proposed Texas University Fund. It is a new proposed endowment to help more of the state’s public universities become research powerhouses and increase their positions in national rankings, specifically those that cannot access the multi-billion Permanent University Fund, which benefits only the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems. If passed, the TUF would provide additional money for the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, Texas State University and the University of North Texas.
Kate McGee contributed reporting.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, the Texas A&M University System, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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