AUSTIN — The latest high-stakes push to bring gambling to Texas escalated on Friday as Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to authorize resort casinos, including two in the Fort Worth-Dallas metropolitan area.
If authorized by a two-thirds vote by the Texas House and Senate during the current 140-day legislative session that ends on May 29, the measure would go before voters on the Nov. 7 ballot as a proposed change in the Texas Constitution.
The measure, House Joint Resolution 97, could open the door for casino gaming at seven destination resorts in Texas, including two in the Fort Worth-Arlington-Dallas area, the nation’s fourth most populous metropolitan region, and two in the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugarland region. A casino would also be authorized in each of the following three areas: San Antonio-New Braunfels, the Corpus Christi metro area and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission in south Texas.
A similar constitutional amendment has also been proposed in the Senate by Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat. But the Geren measure is thought to be the vehicle of choice for many gaming supporters who have been mapping strategy for more than two years to secure the go-ahead for casinos in this year’s 88th Legislature.
Republicans control both legislative chambers and Geren, who owns Railhead Smokehouse in Fort Worth, is a senior member of the House who has served more than two decades as the representative of District 99 in west and central Tarrant County.
“Polling over the last year makes it clear that 85% of Texans want the right to vote on this issue,” Geren said in a press release announcing the initiative, saying his measure has bipartisan support. “It is high time that the Legislature listens to the voters and allow them to decide on the issue. I, for one, am not in the business of denying the voters of Texas when their preference is so clear.”
Gaming advocates have tried for years to bring casinos to Texas, but have repeatedly met defeat in the face of stiff resistance from religious groups and other opposition forces. The barriers seem to be weakening this year after Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan signaled that they may be more open to legalized gambling. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the Senate, hasn’t specifically defined his position.
The Las Vegas Sands Corp., the gaming empire founded by the late Sheldon Adelson, is deploying more than 50 lobbyists in the 2023 legislative session, which started Jan. 10, as part of an offensive that began taking shape immediately after the last session two years ago. Sands also donated more than $2 million to state leaders and scores of lawmakers during the 2022 election, including the majority of the Tarrant County legislative delegation, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Geren’s release said his proposal does not allow Texas to become Las Vegas and does not allow gaming anywhere but the facilities contemplated in the resolution. The bill would also create a Texas Gaming Commission that would strictly regulate the casinos and other aspects of gaming, including horse racing and sports betting.
“Every year, Texas is losing billions to neighboring states that allow gaming,” Geren said. “I believe it’s time we allow Texans to vote on bringing that money and the benefits back to Texas.”
The proposed destination resorts would include entertainment complexes, four-to-five star hotel accommodations, substantial convention and meeting spaces, casino gaming, live performance and entertainment venues, destination retail shopping, night-clubs, world-class spas and a wide range of restaurants, according to Geren’s release.
David Montgomery is a longtime journalist who has served as an Austin Bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald, Austin and Washington bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and Moscow bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers. He also served in the Washington bureau of Knight Ridder and McClatchy Newspapers. As head of Media Southwest Freelance, he also reports and writes for freelance clients that include the Fort Worth Report, New York Times, Stateline, Texas Highways and other entities. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri.
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