Casinos in Dallas-Fort Worth? Texas lawmakers will consider expanded gambling

Wong Maye-E/AP

A North Texas representative has filed legislation to expand casino gambling in Texas and legalize sports betting.

Fort Worth Republican Rep. Charlie Geren filed the proposal on Friday. The legislation is supported by casino and resort company Las Vegas Sands. Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan have left the door open for expanded casino gambling.

The legislation would require voter approval if passed out of the House and Senate. It would allow casino gaming at a limited number of destination resorts, authorize sports wagering and create the Texas Gaming Commission.

It states that two destination resorts would be permitted in the Dallas-Fort Worth, among other sites in the state.

The legislation states that an “initial qualified applicant” in the DFW area would need to:

  • “Be a racetrack association that on January 1, 2022, held a license to conduct racing anywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area or the Laredo metropolitan statistical area or be the person designated by the racetrack association.”

  • And “commit to investing for new development of the destination resort an amount equal to at least $2 billion, including land acquisition.”

There is limited gambling in Texas, including a state lottery, horse and dog racing, some gaming rooms and a few tribal casinos.

Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, has also filed a bill to expand casino gambling. The legislation would let voters to decide whether to legalize destination resort-style casino gambling and sports betting to Texas.

Las Vegas Sands spends big to bring casinos to Texas

The Destination Resort Alliance in 2021 spent millions in a push to bring limited casino gambling to the state, but legislation and a separate push for sports betting ultimately fell flat. Big dollar investments have continued in the time since as the group supported by Las Vegas Sands again advocates for expanded casino gambling in Texas.

The Texas Sands PAC has donated more than $2.2 million to political candidates since the start of 2022, Texas Ethics Commission records show. That includes $200,000 to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, $225,000 to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and $300,000 to House Speaker Dade Phelan. The wife of late Sand’s chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, Miriam Adelson, donated $1 million to Abbott in September.

The political action committee also donated a combined $78,500 to Tarrant County House and Senate lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike.

Las Vegas Sands had also enlisted nearly 80 lobbyists as of Monday, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.

Does expanded gambling have the support of state leadership?

Abbott and Speaker Phelan, both Republicans, have signaled openness to the types of casinos being proposed by the alliance.

Abbott was open to Texas having “professional entertainment” options for gambling when responding to a Star-Telegram candidate questionnaire in October.

“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,” Abbott said. “But if there is a way to create a professional entertainment option for Texans, I’d take a look at it in the coming legislative sessions.”

Further legalizing casino gambling or allowing sports betting Texas would have to go to voters as a constitutional amendment. But before that, proposals would have to pass out of the House and Senate.

Phelan struck a tone similar to Abbott’s in January. The Beaumont Republican said he has constituents who are in favor of expanded gambling in Texas and predicted that voters would approve casino gambling and sports betting if given the opportunity to vote on the proposals.

Patrick — a Republican who plays a key role in ushering bills through the Senate — hasn’t been as open to the idea. He’s said in past years that pitches for casinos or sports books should be made through the lens of jobs and tourism.

More recently, Patrick told KXAN-TV in Austin that he has not seen movement on gambling expansion.

“I haven’t had anyone mention it to me, that they’re interested in doing anything,” Patrick said. “It doesn’t mean that in a session things don’t change, but I don’t see any movement on that right now. Lot of talk out there. But I don’t see any movement on it.”

The House’s main sports betting and casino gambling bills from 2021 were left pending in committee. Senate versions weren’t considered in committee.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.