Texas Gambling Expansion Proposed, Adding Casinos, Sports Betting in 2023

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Texas gambling expansion is already on the 2023 legislative agenda. That’s happening thanks to a state senator interested in having the matter considered during the notoriously short Texas Legislature sessions – 140 days, every other year.

Yesterday, state Sen. Carol Alvarado presented Joint Resolution 17. 

The Democrat from Houston is asking her colleagues to consider passing what would ultimately head to voters so they can decide whether to amend the Texas Constitution.

That means an approved joint resolution would bypass Gov. Greg Abbott, who would likely veto it if he could.

Current law in Texas bans gambling, which is why the state only houses two land-based gambling facilities that operate on tribal land. Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel and Naskila Gaming are the exceptions and they support 3,111 jobs, according to the American Gaming Association (AGA).

Alvarado didn’t respond to questions from Bonus about her proposed legislation. So it’s unclear if her proposal includes online sports betting. Texas online casino gambling also doesn’t appear to be included in the joint resolution.

However, retail gambling expansion is usually the first step states take before lawmakers can return to add online legalization efforts.

What Texas Gambling Expansion Looks Like

The measure requires approval from two-thirds of House and Senate before it can head to the ballot.

However, the current 8-page document for lawmakers to consider is surprisingly scant on details. Alvarado’s proposal does call for a 10% tax on table games and 25% on slots.

It directs lawmakers to create a Texas Gaming Commission. It also proposes legalizing sports betting and commercial casinos.

Texas gambling expansion would include casinos and sports betting. However, the document doesn’t mention whether there will be online casino or sportsbooks. It doesn’t enumerate license fees.

The most specific passage is this:

The legislature shall authorize the Texas Gaming Commission to issue not more than four Class I gaming licenses to conduct casino gaming at destination resorts located in metropolitan statistical areas of this state with an estimated population of two million or more on July 1, 2021, provided that only one Class I licensed destination resort is located within any one metropolitan statistical area.

And this expected level of investment by Class I operators:

$2 billion for a destination resort located in a metropolitan statistical area with an estimated population of five million or more on July 1, 2021; or

$1 billion for a destination resort located in a metropolitan statistical area with an estimated population of two million or more but less than five million on July 1, 2021.

The measure also directs the yet-to-be-formed commission to authorize:

  • Three Class II licenses
  • Two Class III licenses
  • One tribal casino with “slot machines or casino gaming”

If lawmakers do approve the proposal in 2023 and it does head to voters, electors only need to provide a simple majority to legalize gambling expansion in Texas.

Sports Betting Is Leaving Texas Behind

Texas border states Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mexico provide legal sports betting options to their 10 million residents. Texas, with a 30 million population, is only accompanied by 4 million-strong Oklahoma in its non-sports betting status.

In all, 22 states offer legal sportsbooks.

However, Abbott exemplifies how Texas lawmakers aren’t concerned about peer pressure. For instance, his recent unusual actions of transporting “migrants” to other states are making headlines this week in Philadelphia.

Texas voters reelected Abbott last week.

That’s despite Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke saying in April he was “inclined to support” both “legal casino gambling and sports betting in the state of Texas.”

O’Rourke said Texans are traveling to other states for retail and online gambling.

During a press conference, he spoke about what Texas gambling expansion measures could mean:

We would be able to bring in billions of dollars more.

Abbott received 55% of the vote. Nearly 44% of electors chose O’Rourke.

However, O’Rourke isn’t the first Texas gambling expansion advocate to be defeated.

The Texas Tribune reported in June 2021 about a previous doomed retail casino expansion effort:

Las Vegas Sands ended up spending as much as $6.3 million on lobbying at the Capitol, according to state records, plus what the company pegged as at least $2 million on a statewide ad campaign. It is likely that the company’s total spending topped $10 million, given the number of weeks that the company stayed on the air in the state’s most expensive media markets.

So Alvarado is betting against the odds that Texas gambling expansion has a chance. Isn’t that what gamblers do?

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is the lead writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She had her first published byline at age 10, but didn't get paid for her writing until she got her first newspaper job. Fletcher's newspaper career started at Suburban News Publications in Ohio and eventually took her to The New York Times, where she's still a contract freelance reporter for the National Desk. She covers breaking news from Philadelphia, as needed. In March 2021, Fletcher began writing about online casino gambling as the lead writer for Online Poker Report.

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