AUSTIN – After weeks of uncertainty, legislation authorizing casino gambling in Texas was cleared to come to a vote of the full 150-member House this week despite the potential of a bleak reception in the Senate as the Republican-dominated 88th Legislature heads to a finish later this month.
A proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Charlie Geren that would authorize as many as seven resort casinos in Texas – including two in the Fort Worth-Dallas area – was placed in the House lineup for a Wednesday vote, along with a measure backed by the state’s professional sports franchises that would allow sports betting in Texas.
Geren, a Fort Worth Republican and speaker pro tempore of the Texas House, acknowledged that the gambling legislation had been cleared for a House vote during a late-afternoon meeting of the House Calendars Committee on Monday but he declined further comment before Wednesday’s House session to vote on the measures.
“I’ve got a lot more on my mind besides that gambling bill right now,” Geren told Fort Worth Report.
The fate of gambling legislation this session has been the subject of a weeks-long guessing game among lawmakers and lobbyists, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the 31-member Senate, showing resistance to authorizing gaming in Texas.
The gambling measures won approval in the House State Affairs Committee on April 3 but it’s been unclear if the House Calendars Committee, the legislative clearing house that approves bills for a vote of the full House membership, would want to force a House vote if gambling faces a dead end in the Senate.
A number of lawmakers interviewed as recently as this week said they had seen no signs of movement on the gambling front, and several said they believed the issue appeared dead for the session, a repeat of the same fate that has befallen other gambling measures in previous Legislatures.
Nevertheless, hordes of gambling lobbyists led by the Sands Corporation of Las Vegas have waged a fierce effort to overcome past defeats and push casinos and sports betting through the latest legislative session, which ends May 29.
Gambling forces saw signs or encouragement at the outset of the session in January after Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan signaled that they may be more open to legalized gambling.
If authorized by a two-thirds vote by the Texas House and Senate during the current 140-day legislative session, Geren’s measure would go before voters on the November 2023 ballot as a proposed change in the Texas Constitution.
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.