After Texas officials and lawmakers teased their support for expanding gambling and casinos, the Texas House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on several pieces of pro-gambling legislation this week.
House Joint Resolution 102 by State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Allen) is a constitutional amendment proposal to legalize sports betting in Texas. Another piece of Leach’s legislation reviewed by the committee was House Bill 1942, which would regulate the sports betting business. Leach said the Legislature should legalize the practice because sports betting is already happening.
“While this has been happening, even here in Texas, for decades, it’s being done illegally,” said Leach. “It’s being done in the shadows, with bookies and offshore accounts with no regulation, no protections for privacy or data, no monitoring, and certainly no recourse … for anyone to be held accountable if something goes awry with a placed bet here in the state of Texas.”
Both HB 1942 and HJR 102 were left pending in committee.
Lawmakers also heard testimony on State Rep. Charlie Geren’s (R–Fort Worth) HJR 155, a constitutional amendment proposal to allow casino gambling in eight “destination resorts” across Texas and create the Texas Gaming Commission to oversee the industry.
The committee also reviewed State Rep. John Kuempel’s (R–Seguin) HB 2843, which would create regulations and oversight for casino gambling in Texas.
Geren highlighted what he believes to be potential positive economic effects for Texans.
“HJR 155 will add over 100,000 construction jobs and an estimated 70,000 permanent jobs once the resorts are fully developed,” said Geren. “It will guarantee billions of dollars in new development investment and will assist the state and local communities with a new stream of continuing revenue.”
J.T. Foley, vice president of government relations for the casino and resort company Las Vegas Sands, spoke in favor of the measure, saying, “Texas is one of the last great markets for destination resorts.”
To promote gambling in Texas, Las Vegas Sands created the Texas Sands PAC, which, according to Transparency USA, doled out $2 million to Texas candidates during the 2022 election cycle, including $300,000 to House Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont), $225,000 to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, $200,000 to Gov. Greg Abbott, and $50,000 to Comptroller Glenn Hegar, all Republicans.
Despite Abbott and Phelan expressing support for gambling in Texas, the Republican Party of Texas platform opposes expanding gambling, including sports betting and casinos.
Some are also concerned that gambling will open Texas up to offering more corporate welfare.
Tim Hardin, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, said that TFR’s opposition to gambling “has less to do with the ethics of gambling itself and more to do with the history of corporate welfare on the taxpayers’ dime that all too often comes about as a result.”
“Who is paying for these tax breaks and ‘incentives’ given to multinational billion-dollar corporations? You and I are,” said Hardin.
At this week’s hearing, Cindy Asmussen, the public policy advisor for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, highlighted the potential downsides of gambling for Texans.
“If we use the same rationale to raise tax revenue, we could justify any vice as a means for creating jobs and raising funds for education,” said Asmussen. “Money cannot be the driving force behind the legalization of vices for our state. Once Texas opens the door for Class 3 gaming, the lobbying power and influence will be monumental.”
We pay even if we don’t play. Government-sanctioned gambling incurs major socio-economic costs that end up being footed by all the taxpayers. All of us will end up paying.
HJR 155 and HB 2843 were left pending in committee.
The 88th Legislative Session ends on May 29.