Feb 7, 2023 - News

Casino advocates target Texas

Organizations with the most registered lobbyists in Texas
Data: Texas Ethics Commission; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino and resort developer, has more lobbyists in Texas than any other company — and the Sands' roster includes some of the biggest power players at the state Capitol.

Why it matters: Legal casinos could be a boon to the Texas economy, meaning tens of thousands of new jobs, along with all the potential ills that come with mainstream gambling.

The big picture: With around 30 million residents and few gambling options allowed under the state constitution, Texas has long been a target of the gambling industry.

  • This year's push to legalize casinos is a continuation of the well-funded effort initiated by late casino magnate — and prominent Republican donor — Sheldon Adelson.

State of play: State Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Democrat from Houston, has filed legislation that would legalize sports betting and allow casino resorts in the biggest cities in the state.

Reality check: Legalizing casinos would require an amendment to the Texas Constitution, which requires approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate, and then approval by the majority of Texas voters.

  • Current Texas law allows for a lottery, charitable bingo, parimutuel betting on horse and dog racing, and gambling at three tribe-owned casinos.

By the numbers: In total, the Sands is paying as much as $6.55 million to lobbyists this year to cajole lawmakers into easing state gambling restrictions, per state lobbying records reviewed by Axios.

  • The highest-paid lobbyist, Gavin Massingill, who served as chief of staff to former Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, could be paid as much as $279,450, per state records.

Zoom in: The list of lobbyists working for the Sands is a bipartisan murderer's row of well-connected Texas power brokers.

  • Patricia Shipton was among the senior staff in the office of former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
  • Carrie Simmons was director of the Texas House Republican Caucus.
  • Michael Toomey is a capitol veteran who worked closely with Gov. Greg Abbott and was former Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff.
  • Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, a former state senator, was once a candidate for lieutenant governor.

What they're saying: "We will continue to actively engage state and local leaders over the course of this session and remain committed to working with lawmakers to ultimately allow voters to decide on this issue," Matt Hirsch, a spokesperson for the Texas Sands PAC, tells Axios.

The other side: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has opposed gambling in Texas, told KXAN-TV last month, "I don't see any movement on it."

Between the lines: The unprecedented $32.7 billion surplus in this year's state budget could make the economic arguments for legalized gambling a harder sell.

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