Even before Gov. Greg Abbott declared in October that he’s willing to consider expanded gaming options in Texas, that industry was trying to improve its odds in the state by doling out massive campaign donations and building an army of lobbyists in preparation for the legislative session that begins in January.
More than 300 lobbyists are now registered in Texas to work on gambling issues, according to state records, led by Las Vegas Sands, which added another just last week and now has 72 — the most lobbyists in Texas for any single group or business.
They are hardly alone. A newly created Sports Betting Alliance, BetMGM, Caesar’s, Boyd Gaming and Landry’s Entertainment, along with sports gaming companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, have all loaded up in what many in the gaming industry see as their best chance in decades to do business in Texas.
One reason for that is Abbott’s newfound willingness to listen to gambling options in Texas. In October, he told Hearst Newspapers through a spokeswoman that he’s prepared to listen to proposals.
“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”
While far from an all-out green light, it’s a world away from where Abbott has been in the past. In 2015, Abbott said he “wholeheartedly” supported the state’s strict laws against expanding gaming, essentially icing any attempts to pursue casinos or online sports betting options that have proliferated in other states over the past four years.
But Abbott hasn’t been the only stumbling block in Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Houston-area Republican who oversees the state Senate, made clear in 2021 that expanded gaming was not going to see “the light of day.” He said then it just didn’t have the votes in a body dominated by Republicans.
As the leader of the Senate, Patrick has wide power to stop legislation from getting to the floor of the chamber to be debated or voted on.
But the industry continues to direct campaign donations to Patrick and others in Texas to improve their chances when the Legislature meets.
I’ve done many of these before, as you can infer from the title, so I don’t care to belabor this. The smart bet continues to be for nothing of substance to happen. This is partly because of Dan Patrick, and partly because I don’t think there’s enough Republican support to get the two-thirds majority in each chamber that a Constitutional amendment requires. As you know, I’m generally ambivalent about all this – I have no problem with allowing adults who want to gamble the legal opportunity to do so, but I also have no love for the Big Gambling business and lobby – but the news that Patrick’s campaign keeps getting fat with gambling money despite his rigid opposition to them – I guess they think they can eventually soften him up – inclines me to root for another expensive and humiliating defeat for them. At least then I’d get to write the same blog post in two years’ time, and what could be more important than my need for content?