Proponents of expanding gaming options in Texas say they have a long game of play in this legislature and remain convinced that the GOP-led legislature could get to the issues that push them forward at the Capitol.
The gambling empire Las Vegas Sands, which launched an ambitious campaign this year to bring casinos to the state, has recognized the challenge of getting lawmakers on board with such a massive policy change – especially after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raised questions this week about whether the issue has enough support to get it far in the legislative process.
Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government affairs at Sands, told reporters Thursday that this skepticism was not affecting the company's progress at that meeting and that he is confident that the company's nearly 60-strong lobbying team will have enough in the legislature Changing opinions could at least make significant progress.
"We'll see how things feel towards the end of the session later in the spring," Abboud said, noting that gambling legislation could be tabled sometime next month. "I believe we can change anyone's mind if we do it effectively."
Sands was founded by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who passed away last month.
A broader gaming discussion has taken place in recent months, and when the legislative period began in 2021. Casinos aside, a push to legalize sports betting in the state has drawn attention. Several professional sports teams from the Dallas area, including the Texas Rangers, Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Cowboys, first made efforts to advance the issue in the legislature, the Dallas Morning News reported Monday.
Both gambling and sports betting were already facing spikes in the legislature – past efforts have not gotten far, and since both would require a constitutional amendment, they would need two-thirds of the support of the 31-member Senate and 150-member House to pass before going to the electorate in the state to decide.
Other wrinkles have also appeared in the past week. Patrick, the head of the Senate, said Tuesday he doesn't think sports betting has enough support to make it far into the upper chamber in this session. Later that day, a report that Maverick's owner Mark Cuban had decided not to play the national anthem at home games this season sparked immediate backlash from Republicans and prompted Patrick to announce one of his top priorities at that meeting soon after : a bill calling for the national anthem to be played "at all events that receive public funding."
"[Cuban] just pulled the carpet off every other sports team in Texas with this stunt," Patrick told Mark Davis, the Dallas radio host, on Wednesday. "There have been people saying, 'Well why should I approve sports betting? These are people who don't even get people to stand for the flag. Why should I do that? "Since it doesn't make a lot of money for Texas, it makes a lot of money for them here too."
Patrick has argued that the potential new tax revenue from the expansion of gambling would only help a fraction of the state budget and that if casinos are to advance their problem they should "sell it in tourism … sell it in jobs" – a point Abboud said Agreed on Thursday.
"It makes sense for [Patrick] to be careful," Abboud said. “Because, unlike other industries, we need legal approval and voter approval. … That is why we are forming a grand coalition and doing everything we can to communicate the benefits of the jobs. "
Patrick also told Davis that if the casino issue is presented to the state's GOP voters, "they will do it for big casinos, they will choose for the entire month" – not just sports betting.
Abboud said Sands speaks to groups that are pushing sports betting "all the time" – "Sports betting is … it's part of the casino experience," he said – and that the two will continue to work and "hopefully work together".
"None of this really works if it's a pain in the neck for lawmakers," Abboud said. "So we've worked very hard to bring as many of the existing interests here in Texas as possible into the same boat and row in the same direction." And we keep doing that and I think we're about there. "
Abboud said Thursday the company has also had productive meetings with other heads of state, including Governor Greg Abbott and the new House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.
"If they told us to skip town, we would," Abboud said. "But they don't have it, so here we are."
For his part, Abbott said in an interview last week that he wanted to "get a feel for where" members are on the matter. And Phelan has said casinos must be treated as a "long-term commitment" rather than a short-term fix to the state's financial forecast. In a statement accompanying the story, Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez reiterated that position, saying the speaker had "consistently stated that gambling will not fill the current budget gap".
"Each Texas House member will bring their own perspective that will be considered by their communities when considering proposals to expand gaming and sports betting," said Marquez. "Members should judge the merits of each proposal based on whether it has long-term value to the state and its counties."
Still, Abboud is optimistic about the company's chances – or at least progress – in this session.
“Does it happen in this legislative period? We'll see, ”he said on Thursday. “Will it happen in the near future? It's inevitable. "