Candidate for Texas governor Beto O’Rourke said he would consider supporting casino gaming and legalizing sports betting in the state in an effort to decrease property taxes. The former U.S. Rep. is the Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in November’s election.
O’Rourke said he would consider greenlighting gaming during a campaign stop in Dallas on Wednesday, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal. While there is no state property tax in the Lone Star State, municipalities and counties levy these taxes to fund schools, police and fire departments, and repair streets, among other services.
The former Democratic candidate for president argued the state could potentially collect billions of dollars through regulation of gambling and sports betting, reason why he is “inclined to support” this expansion. Wednesday marked the first time he’s publicly addressed the issue on the trail.
“From listening to Texans across the state, it’s one, a very popular proposal, and two, it would also help us address some of the challenges we have in reducing inflation and property taxes in the state,” O’Rourke said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “So I think that warrants a very close look and it’s something I’m inclined to support.”
The candidate for governor argued Texans are already going across state lines for casino gambling and sports betting, resulting in Texas losing out billions in revenues that currently go to other states. However, an expansion of gambling in the state would not be an easy task to accomplish.
The Texas Constitution prohibits the expansion of gaming, a provision that Gov. Abbott has supported and that the Republican-held legislature has not made much effort to modify. A change to the constitution on this issue would require two-thirds of the House and Senate to support putting a measure on the ballot.
Las Vegas Sands has long sought a gambling expansion in Texas
However, O’Rourke is not the only one who believes Texas is ready for a gambling expansion. Casino interests from outside of the state have long sought to persuade lawmakers to approve the development of integrated casino resorts across Texas.
Among them is Las Vegas Sands, which has invested millions of dollars in lobbying efforts to that end. However, the company’s most recent efforts failed earlier this year, which led Sands executives to confirm they planned to revive efforts again for the next legislative session.
In February, Sands launched a new political action committee to strengthen its push for casino legalization: The Texas Sands PAC, which at the time was credited with having already spent over half a million dollars across roughly three dozen primaries for the state House and Senate.
The company seeks to build support by leveraging the argument that billions of tourism and gambling dollars leave the state yearly for neighboring states that already allow casinos. Sands funded much of last year's campaign through the Texas Destination Resort Alliance.
The Sands-backed proposed gambling expansion attempted to let Texas voters decide if they wanted destination resorts to be built in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, although the legislation failed to become law: it only received a committee hearing in the House.
“Texas is considered the biggest plum still waiting to be out there in the history of hospitality and gaming,” said Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government relations for Las Vegas Sands Corp. Meanwhile, neighboring states New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana all have legal casino gaming; and Louisiana and Arkansas both have legal sports betting.