Igaming Focus: Could Texas legalise gambling?

March 16, 2023 9:00 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
March 16, 2023 9:00 AM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

Towards the end of 2022, the state of Texas saw legislators launch the state’s latest attempt to legalise gambling.   

Story continues below

Senate Joint Resolution 17 was introduced by Houston-based Democrat, Senator Carol Alvarado, and proposes a constitutional amendment to create a new regulator, the Texas Gaming Commission, and authorize regulated casino gaming at a limited number of licensed facilities, authorize sports wagering, and impose a tax on such activities. 

Any state revenue generated would go towards tax relief and funding for education and public safety. 

Gambling is already permitted under federal law at three tribal casinos in Texas, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass, the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso, and Naskila Gaming in Livingston.   

However, under Alvarado’s amendment, Indian casinos would have to pay a portion of revenue in taxation to the state. The bill stipulates that tribal operators would need an effective gaming agreement, or to obey state law in additional to Federal laws.  

If the fate of California’s attempts to legalise are anything to go by, this is could be the greatest hurdle to wider gambling legislation in the state. Texan tribes have in the past sought clarity on their sovereignty with regards to gambling in the state and won. It is unlikely they will take an assault on that via new state laws lying down.  

However, another bill was launched in the state in January. Senate Joint Resolution 30, sponsored by Democratic senator Roland Gutierrez, seeks to shore up the Kickapoo’s sovereignty via a gaming compact.  

The bill says: “If, after January 1, 2024, this state by general law or constitutional amendment authorizes video lottery terminals, slot machines, or other forms of gaming not otherwise authorized before that date within 200 miles of the boundary of the reservation of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas near Eagle Pass, Texas, the tribe is authorised to offer the same types of games or devices as authorized under that law or amendment at a location designated by the tribe. 

“A tax or fee may not be imposed on the tribe in an amount that exceeds the amount of a tax or fee imposed on the operators of other gaming facilities in this state.” 

Texas has some of the strictest gambling laws in the U.S. as it stands, and previous attempts to change them have failed. The need to alter the state’s constitution presents a significant hurdle, as it would require bipartisan support in both the state house and senate, and then it would go to a public vote much as was the case in California. 

If Texas can get these proposals through the legislature, avoid conflicting arguments that confuse the voting public and keep the tribes happy, it may stand a chance of passing. 

One former Texas governor, Rick Perry, took to iGaming Business’ World Series of Politics podcast this week to argue that Texans are ready for legalised gaming and that, if presented with a vote on the matter would, in his opinion, vote it through. 

Perry represents one of two distinct pro-gambling lobbies in the state. His is the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, focused exclusively on legalizing mobile sports betting. 

The other originated from a high-profile effort by the late Sheldon Adelson to legalize casinos in four key locations, which Alvarado’s bill intends to achieve. 

Perry made the point that while gambling is illegal in the state, it is already happening. He argued regulation would simply safeguard the population from the associated risks of an activity that is going to happen regardless. 

“It is abundantly clear to me that the people of the state of Texas, they enjoy sports teams, they are fanatical in some cases, and they know what they’re doing, they study these teams”, he said. 

Perry said betting on sports was akin to “putting a wager on a stock” when the individuals placing the bets were as informed about sport as many Texans in his opinion are. “We kind of dig freedom and liberty in the state of Texas”, he said, arguing that given the vote, Texans would agree that sports betting should be legalised. 

He steered clear of voicing an opinion on other forms of betting, saying: “I try to stay out of other people’s business, when it comes to whether it’s, you know, the expansion of gambling with casinos or what have you. I just stay out of that. What I’m focused on is this bill that allows for the regulation, the safekeeping of information, the appropriate oversight by the state of Texas of an activity that has been going on and will continue to go on into the future.”