The 88th meeting of the Texas Legislature could be a historic one for casino and sports betting operators looking to enter the Lone Star State.
That’s the goal for Houston Democratic Sen. Carol Alvarado, at least, as the second-term state senator is aiming to get an initiative on next year’s ballot that would create the Texas Gaming Commission.
That commission then would have the authority to issue a limited number of casino and sports wagering licenses, both in the state’s largest cities and on tribal land.
There is no legal Texas sports betting, and the state’s legislature only meets in odd years.
“Casino gaming at a limited number of locations is authorized in this state in accordance with this section to foster economic development and job growth and to provide tax relief and funding for education and public safety programs,” the bill reads.
What to Know About S.J.R. 17
That commission would have the power to license a limited number of “destination casinos” in Texas’ four largest cities and authorize sports betting inside the state.
Senate Joint Resolution 17, which Alvarado introduced into the Senate on Nov. 14, would award nine licenses to casinos that qualify for three classification levels, all in the state’s four largest cities — Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
Those levels include the four Class I licenses for destination casinos in those four cities, three Class II licenses for limited casino play at currently licensed horse racing tracks, and two Class III licenses for limited casino play at licensed greyhound racing tracks.
Federally recognized tribes in the state also could offer slot machine and casino gaming as part of the initiative, should it pass in November.
SJR 17 would institute a 10% tax on gross gaming revenue from table games and 25% of all slot machine revenue to generate funds for education in the state.
If the legislature approves Alvarado’s bill during its 2023 session, which runs from Jan. 10 to May 29, then the initiative would go before Texas voters on Nov. 7.
How Likely is S.J.R. 17 to Pass?
This is the second time Alvarado has pushed for a bill that would pave the way for casino play, as she also sponsored legislation during the last session in 2021.
The last state to try to pass sports wagering through a ballot initiative was the lone state larger than Texas — California tried and failed to pass a pair of wagering measures by wide margins.
Prop. 26, which would have legalized sports betting on tribal land, collected 33% support. Prop. 27 (which would have passed online wagering statewide) received 17.7%.
In Texas, there has been some semblance of support for expanded gaming from state leaders, such as Gov. Greg Abbott, who received reelection support from pro-casino interests during his run in 2022.
“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” Renea Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, told The Texan online news site. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”
Industry insiders, such as B Global Managing Partner Brendan Bussmann, see the latest legislation out of Texas as an opening salvo of what figures to be a gaming-heavy 2023 legislative session.
“This is one of many gaming bills that are likely to come this session but one of the things concerning me the most is the high tax rate on slots and leaving sports betting back up to the legislature after passage,” Bussmann told BetTexas.com. “We would hate to see another Maryland disaster if you have to pass it before you know what’s in it.”
We’ll have to wait until the new year to see what level of support exists for casino and sports wagering in the second-largest state in the nation.
“Now is the time for Texas to get this across the finish line in 2023,” Bussmann said. “As someone that has tried to get gaming done in Texas since the mid-2000s, it is nothing new to the state, but this is about bringing it out of the illegal market into the regulated market with sports betting now available in a state that loves sports.
“Everything is bigger in Texas and the debate over gaming will be one for the ages this year. The challenges from two years ago remain though in getting this done either as two standalone initiatives in sports and destination resorts or as one comprehensive bill together.”