Fight to legalize online and casino gambling continues in Texas

NBCDFW – Julie Fine

For more than a decade, State Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) has been pushing for casino gambling in Texas.

She has filed legislation since 2009 which would put the issue on the ballot for voters to consider — expanding gambling would require a constitutional amendment, which must be approved by a majority of Texas voters.

“I have filed that bill because Texans love to gamble and I am very confident if we were to put this before the voters it would pass overwhelmingly,” said Alvarado.

Alvarado said it means jobs and would generate money for the state.

State Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) agrees. He filed identical legislation in the Texas House and believes Texans are leaving the state to gamble when they should be placing their bets here.

“I think we’d keep that money at home and put it towards, my views would be putting it towards property tax relief, infrastructure, public education, things like that,” said Kuempel.

Proposals call for four casinos to be built. One in Dallas/Fort Worth, one in San Antonio, one in Houston and one in Austin.

Las Vegas Sands casino and resort developers have been part of the push, hiring lobbyists, and placing ads. But the resolutions never made it to the House or Senate floor for votes.

Opponents of the legislation aren’t surprised.

“I have been on this issue for probably 20 years and I don’t see the landscape changing,” said Rob Kohler, a consultant and lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission, the policy arm of the Texas Baptists.

Kohler is against both casino and online gambling.

“It is not economic development. It is not something you can build off of and grow a community around. It destroys communities,” Kohler added.

Lawmakers vow to keep pushing. Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Rob Goldstein recently told investors during a quarterly call, “Although Texas is a few years away from it, we have been down there. We have spent time in the market. We have people trying to find our place in that market if it does happen.”

Las Vegas Sands Spokesperson Ron Reese told NBC 5, “Sands is committed to talking with stakeholders in Texas about the possibilities of casino gaming.”

Legislation concerning online betting didn’t move far in the last legislature. The Sports Betting Alliance, which said it has partnered with major professional sports franchises across Texas and online betting sites, said they too will keep pushing.

“We are going to use this interim to have these conversations with lawmakers. We believe that the voting threshold is there to pass this law in 2023,” said Cara Gustafson, spokesperson for the Sports Betting Alliance.

NBC 5 asked the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) for a statement on the gambling issue. We didn’t receive one from any of them.