A new poll has revealed that 75% of Texans are in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment by state Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) that would legalize gaming and online sports betting sites at up to four luxury "destination resorts" in the Lone Star State.
The survey was conducted by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston between January 9 and 19 and is the strongest indication yet that the mood among Texans has strongly shifted in favor of legal sports betting in a state that has long had an aversion to all such activity.
According to the poll, 41% of those surveyed "strongly" support Sen. Alvarado's Joint Resolution 17, while 34% are "somewhat" in favor of the legislation. Only 25% of respondents oppose the proposal, including the 13% of Texans who are "strongly" against the measure.
The poll also revealed that 69% of residents who took part in the survey would specifically be in favor of separate legislation that would only legalize online and in-person sports betting in Texas.
Still, a big roadblock looms in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. In 2021, Patrick shot down the prospects of legalized gaming picking up steam in an interview with Austin’s KXAN-TV. However, the new polling results could well bring added pressure on Patrick to reconsider his opposition to gaming.
The bill, which requires two-thirds approval by both the state House and Senate chambers, would see Texans vote next November in a referendum on whether to approve or reject an amendment that would reverse the state's existing constitutional ban on gambling.
Alvorado's proposal reads as follows: "A joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to foster economic development and job growth and to provide tax relief and funding for education and public safety by creating the Texas Gaming Commission, authorizing and regulating casino gaming at a limited number of destination resorts and facilities licensed by the commission, authorizing sports wagering, requiring occupational licenses to conduct casino gaming, and requiring the imposition of a tax."
Mark Cuban and Miriam Adelson's Sands Corp are key backers of gaming bill
Sen. Alvarado's bill follows in the wake of a proposal by Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, to build a new Vegas-style casino and resort complex in the heart of Dallas.
Cuban's project comes with the backing of the cash-rich Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns several integrated hotel and casino facilities in Macao, as well as the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore.
"Online gambling’s great because it’s fun for fans and everything," said Cuban in December. "The reality is that a bunch of politicians in Texas have already said that mobile gaming only moves the needle a little bit. But destination resort casinos? That’s billions of dollars to the state. Big difference. We need to be a destination."
To this end, the Sands Corporation and its affiliated political action committees (PACS) contributed $3.1 million in campaign donations in the state of Texas in 2022, with $1.7 million going directly to Republican lawmakers and candidates and another $600,000 to Democrats.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the beneficiary of $1 million, the largest such contribution made to any state politician. Both he and state House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) have both expressed support for a limited rollout of gaming in the state that would include four destination resort casinos located in major urban centers and eight smaller casinos to be rolled out across Texas.
Miriam Adelson — the widow of former Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson — is one of the key players spearheading the drive in favor of legalized retail and online sports betting in Texas.
Adelson's late husband famously tried and failed to drum up support for his proposed casino project in 2020. Meanwhile, Sands Corp. is flush with billions in cash reserves after the March 2021 sale of its Las Vegas Strip assets for $6.25 billion in total.
As of the first week of the 2023 Texas legislative session that opened on January 10, the Sands Corp. had appointed 63 lobbyists to push state lawmakers to pass the gaming amendment.
In addition, FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM are prime candidates to build a destination resort and casino complex in Texas and are also actively lobbying for passage of the bill.
One other prominent supporter of Texas gaming and sports betting is Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who recently endorsed the idea of sports betting being legalized in the Lone Star State.
Bipartisan support in favour of bill
Democratic Sen. Carol Alvarado — a long-time gaming advocate — believes that there is finally sufficient bipartisan support among both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the state legislature to pass the bill by the required two-thirds majority.
"It simply allows Texans to go to the polls and vote on whether or not we should have gaming in Texas," said Alvarado in a January 3 interview with KRTK-TV, an ABC News affiliate in Houston.
"The way it's crafted, it would be very specific for casinos, Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. It would have to have several components, starting with a four-to-five-star hotel, a complex for conventions, conferences, and entertainment, restaurants, and shops."
Having found a Republican sponsor in the state House, the Democratic senator believes that there is a convincing argument to be made that gaming and sports betting would provide economic stimulus, create jobs, and help put Texas on the map as a destination for leisure vacation and entertainment.
"In construction, indirect jobs, and indirect jobs in hospitality, entrepreneurs. Houston is a place where people come for economic opportunity. Having restaurants and shops open up would be a boost to our economy locally," said Alvarado, who believes that over a hundred thousand new jobs would be created in the Houston area alone.
In the coming months, Texas lawmakers will be under considerable public pressure — not to mention that applied by Sand Corp's army of lobbyists — to listen to all the arguments in favor of the legalization of gaming and sports betting.
Most industry analysts believe that retail and online sports wagering would a major boon to the state economy both in terms of hundreds of millions in state taxes on wagering and also the expected influx of tourists to destination resorts.