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Texan casinos receive additional legislative support


Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has announced his support for constructing resort-style destination casinos in the state.

In previous years, attempts to expand gambling activity in Texas have had little success; however, the industry is preparing to launch another strong push that could bring back some form of gaming to the state.

Although several other state leaders have maintained lukewarm stances on the matter, Phelan’s recent comments could signal that it was finally gaining ground. He revealed that rather than gaming machines in convenience stores, he would rather see destination-style gaming venues that would improve the communities’ lifestyles.

“What I don’t want to see is to walk into every convenience store and see 15 slot machines. I want to see destination-style casinos that are high quality and that create jobs, and that improve the lifestyle of those communities,” Phelan said.

Phelan went on to describe resorts that had hotels, golf courses, and concert venues, saying they were “major economic providers.” The speaker was re-elected Tuesday as a House Speaker for the second term.

Phelan’s recent support for expanding gambling was made after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott revealed last year that he was open to the topic of casinos given the right proposal. A spokesperson for the governor disclosed that Abbott would rather not have slot machines everywhere, but “if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”

In order to progress, the bill needs a minimum of two-thirds of the legislators’ support, after which the state voters will have their say in the matter. Recent polls reveal that state voters will likely approve of the bill during a statewide referendum. Lawmakers will then be given till early March to file bills.

Phelan explained that the subject of revenue was not a prominent one while talking about the casino expansion. He also said it was not particularly a lot compared to the entire state budget.

“This is about what the voters want. I think that the average voter would approve that in this day and age, and that has changed over the last 20 years,” he said.

“If a member is personally opposed to it, they could obviously allow their constituents to decide ultimately whether or not that’s the right thing.”

In the previous session, Las Vegas Sands representatives mentioned that the Dallas, Fort Worth area was a prime target location to build a casino resort in the event that gambling was legalized in the state. The site reportedly has a strong convention and tourism industry, along with its proximity to airports.

In December, Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner, revealed that he and the Las Vegas Sands intend to make a new arena at the center of a resort and casino.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission, the Sands team is one of the many promoting the expansion of gambling and, just this year, has brought on 35 lobbyists with a price tag that goes up to $2.7 million. A minimum of four out of this number were previously lawmakers.

These include former Reps. Jim Keffer, former Sens. Leticia van de Putte, Mike Toomey, and Buster Brown. Other people on board are former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, chief of staff Gavin Massingill, and John Colyandro former policy guru.

There is still considerable opposition to the expansion of gambling in Texas, most of which is based on moral grounds. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick revealed that he didn’t “see any movement on it.” Patrick presided over the state Senate and has a considerably strong influence on the outcome of the gambling expansion bid in the Republican-dominated state Senate.

Mark P. Jones Rice University professor recently revealed that Patrick had the power to decide the fate of gambling in the state, and it would only be passed if he supported it.

“The creation of destination casinos rests with … Dan Patrick, whose strong control over the Texas Senate provides him with the power to determine the fate of any casino gambling legislation, which will only pass if he explicitly or, at least, implicitly supports it,” Jones said.

The previous month, Patrick stated that none of the Senate Republicans had filed a bill concerning the issue, nor had they informed him of their interest in doing anything.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, issued a bill in November that would authorize the creation of four destination casinos as well as sports wagering in Texas. It would also include limited expanded gambling in tribal casinos and racinos under her legislation. Lottery in Texas is already legalized.
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