Speaking on behalf of Las Vegas Sands, the former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board on Wednesday (March 22) urged a Texas House committee to pass legislation that would legalize destination resort casinos and sports betting in the Lone Star State.
J. Brin Gibson, who stepped down in November after two years as the control board’s chairman, told the Texas House Committee on State Affairs the bill he supports is “a distillation” of the Nevada Gaming Control Act.
Specifically, Gibson praised a provision in the bill calling for the creation of a Texas Gaming Commission, which appears to be modelled on the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Although the bill is not expected to pass by the time the Texas legislature adjourns on May 29 (Memorial Day), Gibson’s appearance is the latest sign that Las Vegas Sands remains committed to entering the Texas market despite years of unsuccessful lobbying efforts.
Members of the Texas State Affairs Committee seemed to be almost starstruck by Gibson and asked him many more questions than a parade of other witnesses during Wednesday’s marathon hearing on a panoply of gambling legislation.
After leaving the control board, Gibson returned as a shareholder to the Las Vegas law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP in January.
Gibson appeared before the Texas State Affairs Committee to endorse a bill sponsored by Republican state Representative John Kuempel.
Kuempel’s bill would establish guidelines for licensing casinos and sports betting and would authorize the three federally-recognized tribes in Texas to offer and accept wagers on games.
The controversy swirling around proposed federal regulations on Indian gaming also came up during the hearing.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing, among other things, to allow tribes to negotiate gambling compacts with states to legalize online sports wagers placed beyond the boundary of a tribe’s reservation.
Rob Kohler, a lobbyist for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, told the committee that the proposed federal regulations and a bill by Republican state Representative Jeff Leach could open the door for the Kickapoo Tribe to launch sports betting in Texas.
Leach’s bill emulates the Tennessee model in that it would legalize only sports betting online and would not include any brick and mortar casinos.
Sports-betting companies would be required to pay an application fee of $500,000 in Texas and they would pay a 10 percent tax rate, according to Leach’s bill.
The other two federally-recognized tribes in Texas — the Alabama Coushatta and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, or Tigua — also conduct Class II operations but have expressed interest in sports betting.
Kohler’s comment seemed to resonate with Republican state Representative David Spiller, who said the federal regulations, if finalized, could result in “unintended consequences not contemplated in the [Leach sports-betting] bill.”
Jennifer Hughes, a lobbyist for the Kickapoo Tribe, told the committee the tribe could not support Leach’s bill unless it was amended to specifically authorize the Kickapoos to accept online wagers.
“We can’t do that under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and that’s why we’re asking for the amendment,” said Hughes, who is an attorney with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker.
Hughes said she has had “fruitful’’ discussions with Leach, the bill’s sponsor, and is hopeful that the Kickapoo amendment can be added to his bill.
Gibson said the BIA regulations, if enacted, are unlikely to lead to widespread sports betting by tribes in Texas.
“The governor will still have the power to approve [gambling] compacts and he could negotiate separate compacts with each of the three tribes,” Gibson said.