Texas Casinos Get Growing Legislative Support Despite Historic Opposition

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan now appears to back limited “destination” casinos in the state. So far, Texas has forbidden the opening of such commercial gaming properties.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, pictured above. Phelan is backing limited destination-style casinos in the state. (Image: The Texan)

But Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, told reporters this week that he wants gaming properties that “are high quality and that create jobs and that improve the lifestyle of those communities,” the Dallas Morning News reported.

What I don’t want to see is to walk into every convenience store and see 15 slot machines,” Phelan said.

Phelan envisions casinos with concert halls, golf courses, and hotels, the newspaper report said.

On Tuesday, Phelan was reelected as House Speaker for the second consecutive term.

His support for expanded gambling comes after fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said last year that he, too, is open to considering casinos.

Texas Voters Want Casinos

To move forward, a bill must receive two-thirds of the support of the legislators. After that, it would go to the state’s voters. It’s likely that the state’s voters would approve the proposal in a statewide referendum, according to recent polls.

This is about what the voters want,” Phelan told the Morning News. “I think that the average voter would approve that in this day and age, and that has changed over the last 20 years.”

Some strong opposition to expanded gambling in Texas remains, however, often based on moral grounds.

In December, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the state Senate, said he doesn’t “see any movement on it,” KXAN, a Houston TV station, reported.

Patrick continues to have strong influence over whether expanded gambling could move forward in the Republican-dominated state Senate.

The current session started on Tuesday. Patrick is said to run the Senate chamber with an iron fist.

“The creation of destination casinos rests with … Dan Patrick, whose strong control over the Texas Senate provides him with the power to determine the fate of any casino gambling legislation, which will only pass if he explicitly or, at least, implicitly, supports it,” Rice University professor Mark P. Jones recently told Casino.org.

Last month, Patrick said that none of his fellow Republicans in the Senate has filed a bill on the issue.

“I haven’t had anyone mention it to me, that they are interested in doing anything,” Patrick told KXAN.

Abbott, like Phelan, appears to oppose large-scale gambling in the state.

“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” Renae Eze, a spokesman for Abbott, was quoted recently by the Houston Chronicle.

Lobbyists Busy

Meanwhile, lobbyists are promoting expanded gambling in the state. More than 300 lobbyists are working on the issue, the Chronicle said.

State records show that Las Vegas Sands alone had 74 lobbyists in Texas in December.

Former Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, is a paid spokesman for the Sports Betting Alliance — a group of professional sports franchises in Texas and gaming companies.

Alvarado Legislation

In November, state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, introduced a bill to authorize four destination casinos and allow sports wagering in the state. There also would be limited expanded gambling at racinos and tribal casinos under her legislation. The lottery is already allowed in the state.