Dallas May Push for Casino Gambling With the State Legislature

The Dallas Observer – Jacob Vaughn

Casino moguls have been throwing money at Texas as if gambling were already legal in the state. It’s not. But Las Vegas Sands Corp., one of the biggest casino operators in the world, bought a 200-acre site in Irving last summer. The corporation also recently purchased a piece of property in Dallas off Stemmons Freeway, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Also last year, Canyon Ranch, the Fort Worth-based resort and spa operator, partnered with the entertainment company that owns Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, VICI Properties. VICI paid $200 million for a new Canyon Ranch development in Texas, according to the News.

So, it’s only right that Dallas is considering if and how it will get a cut of the casino gambling pie. This week, City Council members on the Government Performance and Financial Management Committee discussed the possibility of advocating for legalized casino gambling at the state Legislature. This comes as the city tries to figure out how to deal with its poker rooms.

Carrie Rogers, director of the Office of Government Affairs, said at the meeting that the city has begun compiling a list of legislative priorities for 2025, and some council members said they’d like casino gambling to be considered. This was also brought up during an Economic Development Committee meeting this month, but council members had more questions. Some of those questions revolved around public safety, as well as casino gambling’s impact on the local community, economy and arts.

Craig Davis, CEO of VisitDallas, said he was at the meeting to discuss his experience with casino gambling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was involved in the early discussions about bringing casino gambling to the state. “It was a very positive experience for us from a tourism perspective,” Davis said.

Rich Fitzgerald, former county executive for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, was also at the meeting. In Allegheny County, his position was similar to that of Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins. Fitzgerald said the idea for casino gambling in the state came with the election of Gov. Mark Schweiker in 2002. “He campaigned on this and pushed it once he got elected,” Fitzgerald said. Casino gambling was enacted in the state two years later. Casinos were originally opened only for slot machines, but they’d eventually expand to allow table games like blackjack.

He said casino gambling was sold in the state in a couple of ways. One was the possibility of economic development — the jobs the casinos and associated hotels would bring to the state. The other was property tax relief for seniors.

“Quite frankly, it’s been positive on the economic side.” – Rich Fitzgerald, former Allegheny County executivetweet this 

The casinos would also help fund big projects across the state, like a hockey arena, for example. “Quite frankly, it’s been positive on the economic side,” Fitzgerald said. The decision has provided a lot of jobs, and he hasn’t seen much of an increase in crime as a result of the legalized gambling. “I’m not going to say everything’s been perfect with it, but it’s been a pretty positive experience for us,” he said.

Since the casinos opened, their revenue has only grown, Fitzgerald said.

One of the arguments the governor made at the time was that people were already gambling at casinos outside the state, so why not keep them in Pennsylvania to do the same? “So, some of this was about keeping the folks at home so that they would spend their money in Pennsylvania,” Fitzgerald said.

A similar argument could be made in Texas. Nearly 80% of the customers at Choctaw Casinos and Resorts in Oklahoma come from Texas, according to the News.

At the meeting, Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn asked if the revenue from the casinos ended up meeting the expectations. She also asked what expenses were incurred as part of the state’s casino gambling, in terms of public safety and addiction issues among the population.

Fitzgerald said the revenue has pretty much matched what was expected. He said public safety budgets did not increase in any significant way as a result of the state’s casino gambling. “I’m not going to say there weren’t problems,” he said. “If they’re out there, they haven’t been very well publicized.”

Mendelsohn, who is chair of the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on Legislative Affairs, also asked how casino locations were picked, and Fitzgerald said that was mostly decided by state lawmakers.

Dallas City Council member Jesse Moreno said that Dallas, as the ninth-largest city in the country, should have a thriving nightlife without adding a burden to public safety.

Dallas’ nightlife is a big selling point for the city, Davis said. “The city is known as a sophisticated city,” he added. “It’s a place you’d bring somebody to have a great night out. … A casino would be a wonderful thing for us to help sell as another amenity. The devil would be in the details.”

He said after casino gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania, there was an increase in the number of hotel stays in Pittsburgh. Davis also said he didn’t see any negative effects after bringing casinos to Pennsylvania.

Moreno said that going forward, the possible location of Texas casinos will be important. He’d bet if casino gambling were brought to Dallas, it would be set up either in his District 2 or in District 14, both of which contain parts of the city’s central business district. He said he’d like to ensure that casinos won’t be built near single-family neighborhoods. Overall, Moreno said he’s open to exploring the possibility of casino gambling in the state, and he supports making it a priority for Dallas at the Legislature.

Mendelsohn told the Observer if gambling were legalized at the state level, she’d hope the legislation would include very specific locations for it, like downtown Dallas or with connections to the convention center. She said she opposes gambling, including poker rooms, in areas outside of Dallas’ central business district. However, if gambling were legalized in the state, she said associated fees and ongoing revenue should go to host cities to offset public safety and addiction concerns.

As to why the city is considering this now, West told the Observer: “I think it’s a question we need to address as a council because the state Legislature has already looked at this in the last session. It’s logical to assume they will do so again in 2025. So, for us to take a position on this one way or the other is the responsible thing to do.”

West, too, said the location of the casinos would be an important part of the discussion.

He said if the Legislature does legalize casino gambling, the city needs to be prepared for it. He said Dallas needs to plan for how it might regulate and tax casinos, if legislation allows the city to do so. There also needs to be a plan for how the city’s casino revenue should be spent.

“I don’t think it’s fiscally responsible or prudent for us to wait until everything’s passed to begin these discussions and planning,” West said.

Read the full article HERE.