TYLER, Texas (KETK) — Some lawmakers have voiced that they’re ready to take a chance and show support for legalizing casinos and sports betting in the state of Texas. After debates among lawmakers this week, votes are falling short.
According to Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a research gaming firm, Texans place more than $8 billion worth of bets annually. They also reported that Texans spend around $5 billion a year in neighboring states.
“It makes Texas competitive with neighboring states like Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, on the other hand, it’s an economic driver, it creates more economic tourism,” said State Rep. Mary Gonzalez.
Some believe the benefits for the state of Texas could be a jackpot. According to the Texas Destination Resort Alliance, destination resorts in Texas could create more than 250,000 jobs.
“It does benefit the areas where the casinos are going to go in, and it benefits the state economy, in general, it’s a net revenue, it’s a positive for the state of Texas,” said State Rep. Cody Harris.
There are three tribal casinos in our state, one is right here in East Texas. Naskila Casino in Livingston is owned and operated by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.
“Naskila has been here for seven years, and we are very fortunate as a tribe to have gaming on our trust lands here,” said Whitney Williams, Social Media Specialist at Naskila Casino.
The gaming facility has created opportunities for the people living on the reservation.
“Healthcare, and jobs and education,” said Williams.
The benefits of the gaming facility reach beyond Polk County, impacting all of the Piney Woods.
“Naskila Casino has a big impact on the East Texas economy, we have brought jobs here and a lot more business around the area as well,” said Williams.
The benefits of having casinos are bringing in out-of-state visitors and more money for the local economies. But Texas hasn’t decided if it’s worth the gamble.
“The cons are people are concerned about the societal impact of gaming, so we as the legislature are debating that,” said Rep. Gonzalez.
Critics of gambling worry about negative consequences on society and individuals alike.
“Ideological, and economic and philosophical beliefs all blend together and so these conversations are grounded in that, so it takes time for there to be some movement,” said Rep. Gonzalez.
More recently, lawmakers, companies and communities have started to consider the benefits of casinos. Several pieces of legislation expanding gambling access are now in the works. A few are House Bill 2843, House Bill 1942, and House Bill 97.
“The destination resort casinos bill is going to be a constitutional amendment and if it passes both chambers, it will put it up to the will of the people of Texas. The people of Texas will get to vote on it next November to say whether or not they like the idea,” said Harris.
Locations that already have licenses to place wagers on horses would be at the front of the line. But overall, casino licenses would be very limited.
“How many and what type of casinos there are, it won’t be the case where you have casinos popping up at every gas station along the highway,” said Rep. Harris.
Destination resorts would go to cities like Dallas, Houston and Corpus Christi based on the criteria laid out in the bill. Tribal facilities like the Naskila Casino could see their options expand.
Legalizing mobile sports betting, which is legal in 33 states, is also part of the conversation. Last year, more than $93 billion were wagered on sports, according to the American Gaming Association.
“Sports betting so, if you’re in the comfort of your own home and you want to download an app that lets you bet on games,” said Rep. Harris.
Some studies show Texas could be losing out on nearly $300 million in tax revenue, based on a proposed 10% tax rate. That’s money that would be invested back into the state.
“If we don’t do it this year, it will be another two years until we are even able to have the conversation around gaming meanwhile the state of Texas is being less competitive with our neighboring states and losing potential economic opportunities,” said Rep. Gonzalez.
And if voters get the opportunity to decide this November, Rep. Gonzalez advises Texans to consider rolling the dice.
“Think what’s really important is that we understand what the state of Texas needs for the next 10 years,” said Rep. Gonzalez.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is not on board, and has stated that the Senate lacks Republican support to make gambling legal in Texas.
“From day one, we had zero support for casino gambling or sports betting,” Patrick said.
The debate continues at the state capitol in Austin.
“In the house, it has made it through the State Affairs Committee, and it is now sitting in Calendars Committee waiting to be scheduled for debate on the House floor, we could see it in the next couple of weeks,” said Rep. Harris.
Naskila Casino has already placed their bet.
“We’re more than prepared for competition around us and you know we have high hopes for our facilities,” said Williams.
While the odds are far from favorable, bills and resolutions are still being discussed.