Texas casino legislation made significant progress this session showing broad, bipartisan support in the House.
Rep. Charlie Geren’s HJR 155 cleared second reading with a 92-51-2 vote. And Rep. John Kuempel’s HB 2843 passed on second reading 63-49.
But changing the constitution requires a two-thirds vote by each chamber followed by approval of voters in a ballot referendum. With 150 members of the House, the HJR needed 100 votes to pass on third reading.
Geren delayed the vote multiple times trying to put together 100 votes before admitting defeat Friday at the crossover deadline.
“Members, I do know when it’s time to fold them,” Geren said on the floor.
Judging by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s comments on sports betting, the bills wouldn’t have been taken up in the Senate anyway.
Patrick said the Republican-controlled Senate doesn’t pass bills carried by a Democratic majority.
Texas casino discussion on House floor
Like with sports betting, bill sponsors sought to put the question of legalizing commercial casinos in front of Texas voters.
The legislation allowed for eight resort casinos, seven tied to existing horse racetracks throughout the state. An eighth casino could go to the highest bidder, located only in a county that votes in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Geren explained that bringing commercial casinos to Texas would add 70,000 permanent jobs, another 100,000 temporary construction jobs and generate billions in new development investment.
“We have watched other states benefit from Texas gambling for too long. … Each year, millions of our Texans go to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana or Arkansas and they spend billions of their entertainment dollars in those state.”
On the floor, Geren amended the constitutional amendment to distribute the revenue from Texas casinos. He earmarked 80% of Texas casino revenue to increase salaries for public school teachers and to provide money to retired teachers. The other 20% went to regulatory expenses, horse racing purses and police funding.
Kuempel added to the implementation bill model gaming compacts for the Alabama-Coushatta and Tiguas to have tribal casinos.
Some lawmakers, including Reps. Alma Allen, Yvonne Davis and Sam Harless, said they believed it was time to let voters decide on casinos.
But some conservative Republicans illustrated why Texas has limited forms of legal gambling. Rep. Matt Shaheen claimed casinos would bring increased sex trafficking and domestic violence.
“Domestic violence will go vertical,” Shaheen said. “Women married to a problem gambler are 10-times more likely to go to the ER.”
Rep. Eddie Morales said adding commercial casinos would devastate the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas that currently operates the only casino in the state.
Future path for Texas casino
The Texas legislature only meets every two years. So the next opportunity to legalize commercial casinos in Texas won’t come until 2025.
Las Vegas Sands and Fertitta Entertainment have led the lobbying campaign for Texas casinos.
Sands contributed heavily to Texas politicians, including Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also has shown interest in bringing a resort casino to Dallas.
Knowing they are close to having the votes to pass Texas casino legislation in the House should embolden them to increase efforts leading into 2025.