Change in stance

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reportedly willing to consider casino gambling expansion if re-elected

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Reading time 2:07 min

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he is now open to expanded casino gambling in the Lone Star State. Abbott, who once was “wholeheartedly” against any such expansion in Texas, is now willing to listen to proposals if he wins re-election, according to his office.

While the Republican said he does not want a proliferation of gambling in the state, he is now willing to listen to the gaming industry’s proposals. This marks a sharp change from his previous stance on the issue: past attempts to expand gambling faced stiff opposition in the Legislature, partly due to Abbott’s declarations that he supported the state’s strict laws on the matter.

“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,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, as reported by Houston Chronicle. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”

Abbott’s change of mind comes as his Democratic opponent for re-election, Beto O’Rourke, has voiced support for expanded gambling. It also comes on the heels of campaign donations from gaming interests to Abbott’s re-election push over the last several years. However, any effort to expand gambling in Texas would have to overcome some of the strictest laws against gambling in the US: the state constitution prohibits expansion, with only a few exceptions.

Beto O’Rourke

At the moment, Texas has only one Native American casino – Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass – operated by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. The property is authorized and regulated through the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), but the ongoing expansion of gambling in other states has led gaming supporters to claim Texas is losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues as residents drive to neighboring states to wager.

For some time now, gambling interests have pushed Texas and its officials to open the state to sports gambling and resort-style casinos through campaign donations, intense lobbying, and more. Abbott’s campaign was greatly benefited by gambling money: late Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife have given the Gov. $1.5 million in donations since late 2020. And earlier this year, Las Vegas Sands donated $200,000 to Abbott’s re-election through a PAC.

Houston mogul Tilman Fertitta has also been linked with $1.1 million in donations to Abbott, reports Houston Chronicle, and Native American tribes have also been cutting checks. The Chickasaw Nation, which runs more than 20 casinos in Oklahoma, has reportedly donated $350,000 to Abbott’s re-election campaign, while the Kickapoos donated $160,000.

Gambling companies have long seen Texas among the biggest targets in their roadmap; one of the largest untapped US markets. But while 2021’s legislative session saw intense lobbying from gaming interests, many opponents against these efforts remain, including the Republican Party of Texas, which is calling for GOP lawmakers to resist calls for expansion. The Legislature next meets in January, where the issue is likely to again spark debate.

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