AUSTIN (KXAN) — Previous efforts to legalize casino gambling in Texas have fallen short. But with the state facing a dire economic outlook imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, and a billionaire casino tycoon’s recent interest in the state’s politics, supporters of expanded gaming see a fresh window.
Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has so far hired eight influential Austin lobbyists ahead of the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. Adelson and his wife pumped $4.5 million into Republican campaigns for the state House in the 2020 cycle.
“Naturally, all of the significant players in the industry would put Texas at the top of their lists,” said Mark Lipparelli of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
State Rep. Joe Deshotel, a Port Arthur Democrat, sees the 87th Legislature as a prime opportunity to revisit casino gambling in the state.
“Now maybe the best opportunity that casino gambling has had in quite a while,” Deshotel told KXAN. “Keep Texas money in Texas.”
Deshotel has proposed a constitutional amendment to authorize casino gambling in certain coastal areas of Texas. A similar effort failed in the previous legislative session, as did six other casino-related bills.
Revenue generated by casinos for the state would be used to offset some of the cost of expensive windstorm insurance for homeowners and businesses, while also supporting catastrophic flooding assistance.
Every state that borders Texas has at least one casino at or near the state line.
“The issue is trying to cut the money leaving Texas in such large amounts that could be going into the coffers here and helping Texans who need help,” Deshotel said.
Texas lawmakers will return to the capitol in January tasked with budgeting for the next biennium with a $4.6 billion shortfall. Proposals like legalizing marijuana and casino gambling present opportunities for new revenue, but have struggled to gain traction in the past.
Las Vegas Sands Corporation has not responded to a request for comment.
KXAN politics reporter John Engel is working on a full report on the prospect of casino gambling in Texas airing tonight at 10 p.m.