Casino Bill Collapses But Gaming Finally Gets Foot In The Door In Texas

May 15, 2023
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Casinos will have to wait at least two more years in Texas and a sports-betting bill appears doomed in the Senate, but 2023 may well be remembered as the year when the gaming industry, at long last, penetrated the forbidden frontier of the Lone Star State.

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Casinos will have to wait at least two more years in Texas and a sports-betting bill appears doomed in the Senate, but 2023 may well be remembered as the year when the gaming industry, at long last, penetrated the forbidden frontier of the Lone Star State.

Shortly before 12:30pm Texas time on Friday (May 12), Republican John Kuempel, the sponsor of legislation to authorize up to eight destination-resort casinos, rose to speak on the floor of the state’s House of Representatives.

“I move to postpone further consideration of HB (House Bill) 2823 until November 29, 2023,” Kuempel said.

Kuempel’s motion passed without debate, ending any hope for a vote on his casino bill before the Texas House adjourns this year’s session on Memorial Day, May 29.

Kuempel picked November 29 as a symbolic gesture acknowledging the birthday of his late father, Edmund Kuempel, who preceded him in office and supported gambling expansion in Texas.

Perhaps as a last ditch effort to rally votes for his bill, Kuempel even bought lunch meat for his colleagues.

On Thursday (May 11), the House tentatively approved Kuempel’s casino bill by a 63-49 tally, but state law requires a two-thirds majority of 100 votes to put an accompanying constitutional resolution on the election ballot as a referendum for Texas voters.

Overshadowing the vote on Kuempel’s bill was the 101-42 vote later on Thursday to legalize online sports betting in Texas.

The sports-betting vote is nothing less than historic because it marked the first time expanded gambling legislation not only had reached the floor of the Texas House of Representatives, but actually passed.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is in charge of the Texas Senate, moved quickly to quell the celebration by promptly announcing sports betting would not be approved on his watch.

“I’ve said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP,” Patrick said in a Twitter post, referring to the Republican Party in the Texas Senate.

“I polled members this week. Nothing changed. The Senate must focus on issues voters expect us to pass. We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support. HB 1942 (the sports-betting bill sponsored by Republican Representative Jeff Leach) won’t be referred.”

Patrick, 73, has announced he will seek re-election to a fourth term in 2026 after initially saying a third term would be enough.

Before entering politics, Patrick owned a chain of sports bars in the Houston area which failed, forcing him to declare bankruptcy in 1986.

Although Patrick is likely to remain a formidable adversary against gambling legislation, casino proponents led by Las Vegas Sands show no signs of abandoning their years-long campaign to open the lucrative Texas market to commercial gaming.

After paying 74 lobbyists more than $10m in 2021 to push casino legislation, Sands vowed to spend up to $6.9m on this year’s failed campaign.

Sands even contributed $225,000 to Patrick’s re-election campaign last year.

Despite this year’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to bring casinos and sports betting to Texas, the gaming industry at least gained a foothold with Thursday’s 101-42 House vote to pass online sports wagering.

However small the foothold may be, it is likely to become even bigger in 2025 and beyond.

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