Valued at $8bn by Forbes Magazine, the Dallas Cowboys are the wealthiest sports team on the planet, but the team’s owner is finding it difficult to persuade lawmakers even in his home state to support sports betting.
The Texas legislature, which convenes just once every two years, is in session in 2023 and the gambling industry is already opening its war chest to spend more millions on yet another longshot campaign to gain entry into the Lone Star State for both casino-resorts and mobile sports wagering.
Sports betting in Texas is “really a thing that needs to be addressed at this time,” Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ 80-year-old owner, said on January 13 during one of his frequent appearances on Dallas radio station KFAN.
“There’s a huge amount of gaming going on in and around sports at this time. And so, to have all of the benefits or all of the control over it, it needs to be recognized and parameters put on it and discipline put in it,” said Jones, who is widely regarded as the most powerful and influential owner in the National Football League.
Jones’ comments followed a similar endorsement for gambling on January 12 by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan.
“I want to see destination-style casinos that are high quality and that create jobs, and that improve the lifestyles of those communities,” Phelan told reporters.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a regular on popular network television series “Shark Tank,” wants to open a casino in Dallas which would include a National Basketball Association (NBA) arena for his team. Cuban said in December that he would be looking to partner with Las Vegas Sands on the project.
Tilman Fertitta, owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, sold his Golden Nugget Online Gaming interactive business last year to DraftKings, where he is now a significant shareholder, and may be the most active owner behind the scenes in Austin pushing for sports betting in Texas.
But as powerful as the owners and Speaker Phelan are, they may be no match for Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick who controls the Texas Senate with an iron fist and shows little inclination to abandon his long-standing opposition to gambling.
“I haven’t had anyone mention it to me, that they are interested in doing anything [to legalize sports betting or casinos in Texas],” Patrick told Austin television station KXAN in late December.
In most states, the lieutenant governor only plays a ceremonial role in the state Senate. Not so in Texas, where the lieutenant governor appoints members of Senate committees and picks committee chairs.
So even if a gambling bill makes it through the Texas House of Representatives this year, Patrick is well positioned to stop it in its tracks in the upper chamber of the legislature where any gaming expansion proposal would require a two-thirds majority to pass.
When the Texas legislature was in session two years ago, Patrick went on a radio show in the West Texas city of Lubbock and singlehandedly killed any momentum for sports betting by saying, “it’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day.”
Despite the Republican lieutenant governor’s stance, Democratic state Senator Carol Alvarado proposed a constitutional amendment on November 14 to authorize sports wagering and casino gaming at destination resorts in major Texas cities, as well as more limited gaming operators at established racetracks.
Patrick’s steadfast opposition to gambling expansion is rather puzzling given that Las Vegas Sands, which has long coveted the Texas market for new casinos, has donated $2.5m to his campaign coffers over the last three years.
Also perplexing is why Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment and other casino companies continue to throw good money after bad in a so-far vain attempt to crack the forbidden gambling frontier in Texas.
For example, in 2021, Sands splurged a reported $10m on lobbyists in Austin for an ill-fated casino campaign that came up empty.
Two gambling lobbyists in Austin, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance the recent comments by Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, and the House speaker are simply not resonating with the legislature, which opened this year’s session on January 10.
“What I’m hearing is that Speaker Phelan will not even bring up a gambling bill in the House if he knows it will go nowhere in the Senate,” one of the gambling lobbyists said.
The lack of unity among various gambling interests in Texas, including casinos, sports wagering and historical horseracing, is a perpetual obstacle the gaming industry has yet to overcome.
“Yeah, crabs in a bucket,” said Mike Lavigne, a member of the Austin Downtown Commission and a veteran lobbyist of multiple campaigns to expand gambling in Texas.
Lavigne’s idiom refers to the phenomenon of crabs pulling each other down when one tries to escape from a bucket.
So far, 2023 is looking a lot like 2021 when it comes to prospects for gambling expansion in Texas.
It is not a case of “wait till next year in Texas.”
It is always “wait till two years.”