Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for governor, voiced his support for Texas sports betting and casino gambling earlier this week.
During a press conference in Dallas on Wednesday, O’Rourke suggested eliminating the state’s ban on commercial gambling as a way to combat rising property taxes. Texas does not have a state income tax.
“If we were to make legal casino gambling and sports betting in the state of Texas — which as you all know many Texans engage in now, it’s only that those revenues go to other states and to other state governments — we would be able to bring in billions of dollars more,” O’Rourke told reporters. “From listening to Texans across the state, it’s a very popular proposal. It would also help us to address some of the challenges that we have in reducing inflation and property taxes.”
O’Rourke is challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in November’s election.
Despite Neighbors, Texas Opts Against Gambling
In the 1940s and 50s, Galveston’s famous Balinese Ballroom featured performances by stars like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope and a bustling illegal gambling business. By 1957, local authorities finally shut down the operation — and Texas gambling has seemed to live in the shadows ever since.
While Louisiana legalized casino gambling more than 30 years ago and Oklahoma has had tribal casinos since the mid 2000s, Texas politicians have remained steadfast in opposition.
That opposition has allowed mega tribal casinos in Thackerville, Okla., and Durant, Okla., and commercial casinos in Lake Charles, La. to thrive.
But since the federal ban on sports betting was lifted in 2018, gambling has become more widely accepted — both as a potential revenue source for governments and a potential advertising partner for sports teams.
The Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant is a key sponsor of the Dallas Cowboys and also put its name on the Texas Rangers former home, Globe Life Park, which now serves as a multi-purpose stadium.
BetMGM has partnered with the Houston Astros to promote its Louisiana mobile betting app, which went online in January.
Texas Sports Betting, O’Rourke’s Candidacy Still Long Shots
Despite O’Rourke’s recent statements and the backing of many of the state’s professional sports franchises, sports betting in the state is a long way off.
The Texas Legislature won’t meet again until January 2023. Even if a bill is passed then, it would need to go before voters — so it would be November 2023 before the state could legalize sports betting. The process to enact it would take many months more.
And if there is no bill in 2023? It would be 2025 before the legislature meets again in regular session.
Sheldon Adelson, the late billionaire patriarch of Las Vegas Sands who died in early 2021, coveted Texas as a casino market and to advance that ambition, LVS hired a slew of lobbyists to meet with state leaders in 2021. In 2022, LVS sold its Las Vegas assets to concentrate on its Asian holdings. But Adelson’s widow, Miriam, is funding a pro-casino PAC in Texas with more than $2 million.
Gov. Abbott has seemed to soften his stance on gambling over the years, which would be good news for sports betting proponents since he’s a heavy favorite to win re-election.
UK-based bookmaker Ladbrokes has Abbott at -600 to win November’s general election. O’Rourke, who came to national prominence with his narrow loss to Ted Cruz in Texas’ 2018 U.S. Senate election then had a failed run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is listed at +600.