Lawmakers to review casinos and sportsbooks in House State Affairs Committee

Austin, TX, 30 seconds ago – A series of bills and resolutions aimed at expanding gambling in Texas have been scheduled for hearing before the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, March 22. Lawmakers will consider proposals to place casinos and sportsbooks on the November 2023 general election ballot.

Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) is the State Affairs Chairman, who will hear bills from Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) and Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) to bring casinos to the Texas.

Joint Geren’s House Resolution (HJR) 155 proposes to allow casinos in major metropolitan areas including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and McAllen. Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) also filed her own casino bill in the state Senate.

Meanwhile, Kuempel’s House Bill (HB) 2843 relates to the licensing of commercial casinos, the creation of a Texas Gaming Commission, and includes the horse racing industry. The legislation also includes sports betting and the three federally recognized Native American tribes. Generally speaking, tribes want to be able to control their own gaming operations and be allowed to offer casino games, especially if they are to compete with commercial casinos.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) drafted legislation to put sports betting on the state ballot and implement a betting operations licensing program sportsmen. House State Affairs will hear Leach’s twin proposals, the Constitutional Amendment and the Enabling Bill.

The Texas Sports Betting Alliance (TSBA), one of the largest organizations supporting sports betting bills, said in a press release on Friday that its research indicates that Kolkhorst and Leach’s proposals, which include a 10% taxation, could create $648.7 million. in tax revenue for the State of Texas in the first five years. Once the market matures, the state could raise $180 million annually, according to the TSBA.

Of course, taxes would be levied on gross gaming revenue from casinos and sports betting operations if any of these bills become law.

Although Texas has some of the strictest gambling laws in the country, they are certainly not the most onerous. Utah and Hawaii prohibit all gambling, and there are other states that, like Texas, have not passed legislation allowing sports betting within their borders.

Opponents of casinos and other forms of gambling, such as Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) and socially conservative interest groups, argue that the economic benefits are oversold and that the expansion of gambling will lead to the addiction and crime.

Another factor to consider is that many evangelical Christians consider it a sin to gamble large amounts. Many elected officials place their church membership and presence on their campaign websites. For some, supporting a casino bill can make conversation awkward at home on a Sunday morning.

None of the casino bills would “legalize casinos” per se. Building casinos would still be illegal for almost everyone except a handful of companies licensed by the state of Texas to build “destination resorts,” a phrase coined by supporters to describe developments multi-million dollar proposals that would include casinos.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) indicated at the start of the legislative session that he would be open to limited expansion of casino games. Governor Greg Abbott expressed similar thoughts in October, although the governor has been an opponent of gambling in the past and will likely approach the issue with skepticism.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick can be hard to convince. Prior to the start of the session, Patrick remarked that he did not expect the issue to progress this year.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. and its majority shareholder, Dr. Miriam Adelson, have spent millions contributing to Texas candidates in the 2022 election and have hired dozens of lobbyists for this legislative session as they did two years ago.

“Regulating an industry”

Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also filed legislation that would allow counties to regulate poker rooms. The legislation was filed as a gambling bill, but Wu characterized it differently in a social media post.

“This is not a ‘game’ bill. It does not legalize anything new. It’s a way to regulate an industry that hasn’t been able to be regulated so far,” Wu tweeted.

The regulation of poker rooms is a sore point for the state of Texas. The attorney general’s office warns against poker rooms and casino nights, but there’s enough ambiguity in state law to keep some card rooms operating. As long as players are betting against each other instead of the house, it seems legal. This gets complicated when establishments charge admission fees to players to participate in the games.

Also, state law limits legal gambling to a “private place,” but does not stipulate that it must be a domicile or residence. Wu’s bill would make gambling halls a regulated activity and revise current statutes to make unregulated gambling permitted only in a “private residence” or “private lodging.”

Wu’s bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor to operate a poker room in violation of county regulations. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by one year in prison and a maximum fine of $4,000.

In 2019, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office filed charges of money laundering, organized crime, and gambling violations against poker room operators, charges that were eventually dropped due to disputes. of reported interests. The prosecutor’s office referred the case to federal investigators.

Wu District is located southwest of Houston. He first mistakenly filed an incomplete bill and circulated a memo explaining his mistake to other lawmakers. The new version, HB 1601, is pending before the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, but has not been scheduled for a hearing.

A copy of the State Affairs agenda for Wednesday, March 22 is available below.

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