Texas Republican Legislator Introduces Bill Enabling Casinos, Sports Gambling

A Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives has introduced a bill that would pave the way for limited gaming properties in the Lone Star State. The legislation would allow for sports wagering, too.

Texas State Rep. Charlie Geren
Texas State Rep. Charlie Geren
Texas State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, pictured above. He has introduced a bill to pave the way for limited casinos and sports betting in the state. (Image: Texas Tribune)

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, filed the proposal on Friday. The bill is known as House Joint Resolution 97.

Geren’s bill would allow for as many as seven destination casinos. They are called “destination resorts” in the legislation.

They include two casinos in both the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston regions, as well as one each in the Corpus Christi, McAllen, and San Antonio regions.

The locations were selected because they are areas which promise the “greatest positive economic impact from destination resort development,” the bill said.

Geren envisions properties that have not only casinos but “tourism amenities and facilities, including hotels, restaurants, meeting facilities, attractions, entertainment facilities, and shopping centers,” the bill said.

The legislation would also allow some of the state’s race tracks to use existing parimutuel licenses so they could open destination casinos.

Under the legislation, the tax on gross gaming revenue at the casinos would be 15 percent.

Many Democrats traditionally have backed opening destination casinos. Three months ago, Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, filed a bill similar to Geren’s in the Senate.

Geren’s legislation apparently demonstrates the increasing support among some Republicans to approve limited gambling.

Last month, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, also a Republican, backed limited “destination” casinos in the state. These properties would include hotels, golf courses, and entertainment halls.

Fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last year also softened his stand on casinos. Now, he is open to considering them.

Hundreds of pro-gambling lobbyists are working on the issue in Texas. Las Vegas Sands is a key player. The casino company alone employed 74 lobbyists in Texas in December.

Two thirds of both the House and Senate would need to back a gambling bill before it is sent to the state’s voters in November for final approval. If the voters support the referendum, the state’s constitution would be amended.

Dan Patrick’s Role

But so far, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, another Republican, who presides over the Senate, has yet to show he would back casino-enabling legislation.

In December, Patrick said he doesn’t “see any movement” on the gambling issue, KXAN, a Houston TV station, reported.

“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. Patrick may acquiesce given the growing support for limited casinos, Jones added.

Yet, past efforts at approving casinos in Texas failed in the legislature. Many opponents rejected gambling on moral grounds.

But Geren said an overwhelming number of Texans now support a statewide vote on casinos.

Public Wants Casino Vote

“Polling over the last year makes it clear that more than 85% of Texans want the right to vote on this issue, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Geren was quoted by the Dallas Morning News.

It is high time that the legislature listens to the voters and allow them to decide this issue. I, for one, am not in the business of denying the voters of Texas their voice when their preference is so clear.”

Some 75% of Texas residents surveyed by the University of Houston in January backed Alvarado’s bill.

Some 69% of born-again Christians taking part in last month’s survey support the passage of Alvarado’s casino bill, and 61% of Evangelical Protestants questioned support its passage.

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