new poll reveals that 57% of Texans support allowing casino gambling in the state, while 29% of respondents are opposed, with 13% saying it doesn’t matter. Of that total, 52% of white evangelicals, a group that routinely blocks the expansion of gambling, are in favor of allowing casinos in Texas.
The poll, conducted by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, also found that Texans support sports betting by a 43% to 26% margin, with 31% responding that it doesn’t matter to them. White evangelicals were less thrilled about sports betting, as they oppose it by a 44% to 26% margin.
It’s estimated that Texans spend $2.5 billion annually on gambling operations in other states, and proponents of expanding Texas gambling say keeping that revenue in the state could provide needed revenue for education and other services. Opponents of gambling include religious groups, some Las Vegas casino companies and Native American tribes that have casinos on their land.
Expanding gambling is difficult in Texas because it’s banned by the Texas Constitution. It would take two bills to legalize sports betting: one to amend the constitution, which requires approval from two-thirds of both the House and Senate, and one to enact the details of the licensing and regulation. If the amendment passes, it would then need to be approved by a majority of voters in a referendum.
“Folks that are getting elected are not going to their communities and saying, ‘If you send me to Austin I’ll vote for casinos, or fantasy sports, or sports wagering,’” said Robert Kohler, a lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission that represents the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “Until that day comes, I don’t see the needle moving.”
However, there were signs that this legislative session could be different. Before he died in January, Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson was planning a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to bring casino gambling to Texas. It’s unclear how the conservative political donor’s death will affect that effort, and last week Las Vegas Sands officials announced that the company is pulling out of Las Vegas to focus on its operations outside of the United States.
Texas proponents of expanding gambling have renewed or launched new efforts. Last month, The Dallas Morning News reported that the state’s biggest sports teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks, are mounting an effort to legalize sports betting in Texas.
Houston state Reps. Dan Huberty, a Republican, and Harold Dutton, a Democrat, have drafted bills to legalize sports betting.