Gaming proponents in the Texas legislature have their work cut out for them.
After a couple of very lengthy debates Wednesday afternoon on the state House floor, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to grant a third reading on resolutions calling for public votes on constitutional amendments to allow casino gaming and online Texas sports betting.
However, both the 92-51 vote on HJR 155, the casino measure, and the 97-44 tally on HJR 102, the sports betting referendum, fell short of the two-thirds requirement needed on the third reading in the 150-seat House to send either to the Senate.
Third readings on those could come as early as Thursday.
Resolution Would Allow Casino Resorts
State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Lake Worth, said his resolution would let voters decide whether they want a limited number of casino resorts. The constitutional amendment would not allow slot machines or similar games to be installed in convenience stores, restaurants or bars. It also doesn’t include Texas online casinos.
The casino measure would allow voters to decide on allowing up to eight casinos across the state. It calls for 20% of the funding to be set aside for horse racing interests, with the remaining 80% covering salary raises for teachers and cost-of-living hikes for retired educators collecting pensions.
Lawmakers have debated expanding gaming in the nation’s second-largest state for decades, but efforts to pass those bills have been unsuccessful as socially conservative lawmakers have blocked previous attempts. In that time, casinos have sprouted in neighboring states.
“Each year millions of our Texans go to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana or Arkansas, and they spend billions of their entertainment dollars in those states,” Geren said.
The resolution, though, faced bipartisan opposition. Some Republicans raised concerns that casinos would increase incidents of human trafficking and domestic violence statewide.
State Rep. Eddie Morales, D-Eagle Pass, voted against the measure after his attempt to get an amendment granting the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe gaming rights failed.
“The bill would benefit many others in the state as well as out-of-state interests as currently drafted,” he said. “It would devastate my constituency.”
Sports Betting Licenses Tied to Pro Teams
The sports betting resolution would also put the question of legalization to the voters through a constitutional amendment.
Texas sports betting apps licenses would be tied to professional sports teams and organizations.
The tax money from sports betting would provide property tax relief across the state. An amendment to allocate funding for health care costs and rural hospitals failed by a 63-71 vote.
HJR 102 sponsor state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-McKinney, and other supporters told colleagues Texans are already gambling on sports, and this would allow them to do that legally in the state.
“This is not about gambling,” state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said. “This is about us dictating what they can and can’t do with the dollar they have in their pocket. If you vote against this, you’re not about liberty. You’re not about freedom. You’re about locking people up for deciding what to do with their own money.”
HJR 102 Closest to Moving On
Of the two measures, HJR 102 would seemingly have the better chance of reaching the 100-vote threshold to clear the House.
However, prospects for either resolution are dim in the Senate. That chamber is led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who opposes gambling and has told reporters there are not enough votes in the Senate for either bill.
With that in mind, some lawmakers questioned why there was such urgency in the House for either resolution.
“I’m not a no. I’m a not now… So I say let’s spend some time and get it right,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said on the floor regarding the casino referendum.