Posted on: October 26, 2022, 12:30h. 

Last updated on: October 26, 2022, 01:22h.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) appears willing to at least consider casino gaming in Texas if he’s reelected to the top office in the state.

Texas casino
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left) seen here in 2021 with former President Trump. Abbott is open to a casino in Texas. (Image: CNBC)

Abbott is seeking a third term as governor of the second-largest state in the country, and is facing off against Democratic challenger Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. On the campaign trail, O’Rourke has said he favors bringing casino gaming to Texas.

Currently, the state has just one gaming venue, a tribal casino in Eagle Pass run by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. That property offers bingo, poker, and slot machines, but doesn’t feature table games such as blackjack and roulette.

Texas has some of the most restrictive gaming laws in the country, and those are fortified in the state’s constitution. But it permits dog and horse racing, and has a lottery.

Previously stridently opposed to casinos, Abbot has, in recent years, softened his stance on the issue. Though one of his aides made clear the governor doesn’t want Texas taking after Las Vegas.

We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”

Abbott is polling at 51.4% compared to O’Rourke’s 42.9%, according to 538.

Texas: Last Great US Commercial Casino Frontier

Owing to its status as the second-largest — and one of the fastest-growing — states, Texas is a highly desirable market for casino and sportsbook operators.

That desire is enhanced when one considers that California and Florida — the largest and third-largest states, respectively — are dominated by tribal casinos. In the case of California, tribes fight tooth and nail to ward off competition, using political donations to get their way. The landscape is barely more friendly in Florida, where gaming expansion requires the consent of voters.

Polls indicate a majority of Texans support casinos, with just one-quarter of respondents opposing the notion. Some politicians are quick to note the state is losing out on valuable tax revenue because residents frequently visit tribal gaming venues in Oklahoma and commercial casinos in Louisiana.

Previous attempts to bring regulated sports betting to the state exclusive of casinos, though supported by professional teams, stalled. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is seen as the primary hurdle to casinos and sports wagering in Texas. Patrick, also a Republican, is likely to win reelection, and with the complexion of the state senate unlikely to swing to Democrats, gaming expansion faces lingering hurdles in Texas.

Gaming Companies Spend Big in Texas Politics

Although Texas isn’t home to a commercial casino, operators still spend plenty of money on politics in the state. From July 1 through September 23, a political action committee (PAC) tied to Las Vegas Sands spent $131,729 in Texas, donating $50K to Abbott, but nothing to O’Rourke. However, Texas Sands PAC did contribute to some Democratic incumbents.

In September, Dr. Miriam Adelson, the widow of Sands founder Sheldon Adelson, donated $1 million to Abbott’s reelection bid.

Golden Nugget boss Tilman Fertitta has also been a long-time financial backer of Abbott, but that could be because he wants casinos kept out of Texas. His company runs a Golden Nugget casino hotel in Louisiana.

Additionally, two Texas tribes contributed to Abbott’s campaign.