There are casinos in about 20 U.S. states, but not Texas, whose Constitution officially bans gambling. For several sessions in the early aughts, some lawmakers and interest groups have tried to bring various styles of gambling to Texas. The idea failed many times, but the budget crisis of 2011 brought on renewed hopes for gambling legislation. Proposals for increased gaming in Texas include full-blown casinos, Indian or tribal casinos only, slot machines at horse racetracks or legalized poker games.
Those who argue for gambling say that it keeps revenues in Texas, instead of sending it to Louisiana and Oklahoma, which currently allow various forms of gaming. Others say allowing slot machines at horse racetracks will help revive the racing industry. Other advocates want to help struggling Indian tribes develop their economies through gambling.
Opponents generally cite the moral and social implications of gambling, and its unstable promises of revenue. Another argument against gambling is that regulating it will be difficult, especially when it comes to tribal casinos. Federal Court rulings in the 1980s expanded gambling operations for Indian Tribes. As sovereign dependent nations, Indian tribes are not bound by state law, only federal law.
With the passage of the Texas State Lottery in the early 1990s, Indian tribes in Texas began operating small casinos arguing that provisions of a federal law allowed them to gamble. Then Attorney-General John Cornyn disagreed, and shut down the casinos. Since then, every attempt at the Legislature to bring gambling back has failed, but sometimes by narrow margins. A 2007 bill that would have allowed limited Indian gaming was defeated by a tie vote, 66-66, in the Texas House of Representatives. Had it survived, several members of the Texas Senate would have likely filibustered the bill.
House Speaker Joe Straus has family ties to the horse-raising industry, creating a potential conflict of interest should any bills related to casinos at horse racing tracks come before the House. To deflect criticism, Straus has recused himself from any role in considering such legislation.