Are House Republicans Really Pushing Gambling at the State Capitol in Austin?

While gambling would appear to face long odds in the conservative Texas Legislature, the industry's not giving up

AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Insider Report) — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is on record saying he's against allowing any form of gambling to gain a foothold in the Lone Star State. But despite Patrick’s opposition in the Texas Senate, House State Affairs Committee members – under the leadership of Committee Chairman Chris Paddie – plan to hold a hearing on the controversial issue Wednesday morning in Austin.

And, national gambling interests are lawyering-up, circling Texas – the 9th Largest Economy on the Globe.

With more than 60 lobbyists hired by one Las Vegas casino alone to push various aspect of the issue, establishing even a minimal presence in Texas would open the floodgates for future gambling expansion, providing access to the state's growing population – and wealth.

While gambling expansion in Texas would appear to face long odds in the conservative Texas Legislature – where Republicans hold a 83-67 majority in the Texas House and a 18-13 majority in the State Senate – parts of the gambling industry's agenda were passed by the House during the 2019 Session. And, there's plenty of time for legislation to be passed prior to the 2021 Session's adjournment at the end of May.

Three gambling bills have been set for the hearing in House State Affairs on Wednesday, April 14th at 8:00 a.m.:
  • HB 2070 by Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) relates to the regulation of Sports Wagering & Decriminalizing Wagering on sports events.
  • HJR 97 by Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) proposes a Constitutional Amendment authorizing the legislature to Legalize Sports Wagering in Texas.
  • HJR 133 by John Kuempel (R-Seguin) proposes a Constitutional Amendment to "foster economic development & job growth" and create a Texas Gaming Commission to Authorize & Regulate Casinos.
The latter two pieces of legislation are Constitutional Amendments, which if passed by the Texas Legislature would require Texan's to vote on the measures in a future election. Submitting controversial subjects – such as gambling expansion in Texas – is often viewed by voters as a way for legislators to side-step the responsibilities of elective office by passing difficult and oftern career-ending  decisions onto the state's citizens.

Even if industry efforts were to gain support support in the Texas House, analysts say the expansion of gambling in Texas faces substantial hurdles.

Scott Braddock, editor of the Austin-based Quorum Report, recently told Lubbock's Chad Hasty Radio Program that he took a dim view of expanding gambling in Texas, calling it a "long shot" he "wouldn't bet on."

How might the battle play out – particularly in the State House where new Speaker Dade Phelan and others have promised a more conservative-oriented session?

As the Houston Chronicle noted earlier this year in a January 3rd editorial:
"Phelan is a politician, a conservative Republican politician with a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association and 'pro-life' bona fides."

In a state residing in the heart of the "Bible Belt," which prides itself on its independence, Casino gambling appears to face a tough, uphill battle among Republican lawmakers in the Texas House and Senate.

Legislators also still have concerns that allowing gambling in Texas could boost crime in the state.