AUSTIN – Backers of proposed constitutional amendments to authorize casinos and legalize sports betting in Texas scrambled overnight to shore up support after preliminary votes showed them short of the needed 100 votes to advance the major gambling measures to the Senate.

Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, speaker pro tempore of the House, secured initial passage for his casino measure on a vote of 92-51 on Wednesday, May 10,  but he will need 100 votes on a second and final tally on May 11 to secure the required two-thirds majority of the 150-member House.

Another proposed state constitutional amendment aimed at legalizing sports betting fared slightly better on a vote of 97-44, but it, too, must obtain 100 votes when it comes up again on Thursday. The measure, authored by Rep. Jeff Leach of Allen, is backed by most of the state’s professional sports franchises to put Texas in league with more than 30 other states that have authorized sports betting.

“They’ve got to work overnight,” said Rep. Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee that endorsed the measures.

Geren declined to comment following the vote but Leach expressed confidence that he could muster the needed support.

“I think we’re going to get three more votes and we’re going to pass this damn thing,” said Leach, whose hometown was the scene of a mass shooting on Saturday that left eight dead and seven wounded. “I’ve been doing this long enough – I think I can find three more votes.”

Passage by the Legislature would send the proposed amendments to a November election, in which voters would decide on authorizing casino gambling and sports betting in Texas.

Gambling has been one of the state’s most contentious issues, dividing lawmakers and the public for nearly a quarter of a century, but lobbyists led by the Sands Corporation of Las Vegas have waged a fierce effort during the current session to push casino gambling over the finish line.

Geren’s measure would authorize at least eight casinos in Texas, including two in the Fort Worth-Dallas area, in an attempt to keep Texans from going to other states to try their luck.

Much of the tax revenue from gambling proceeds would go for teacher salaries and pension benefits for retired teachers.

“It’s time to let your constituents decide if gambling should be legal in Texas,” Geren told House members. “We let the people vote.”  

A final vote in the House on Thursday would send the measures to the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the chamber’s presiding officer, has strongly resisted efforts to authorize gambling in Texas. Patrick’s stance raised doubts that gambling would come up for a vote in the House but House leaders decided earlier this week to clear the way for Wednesday’s votes.

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. 

Geren described the proposed casinos as high-end sources of revenue that would generate billions in revenue and create well over 100,000 jobs.

“We’re not just talking about any type of casinos,” said the Fort Worth lawmaker. “We’re not talking about slot machines at 7/11.”

The Republican-dominated Tarrant County delegation voted 7-4 in favor of Geren’s measure.  Supporting the initiative were Reps. Salman Bhojani, D-Euless; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; David Cook, R-Mansfield; Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth;  Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth;  Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, and Geren.

Voting against it were Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake; Stephanie Klick, D-Fort Worth; Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, and Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington.

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David Montgomery

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...