Is Texas Getting Closer to Legalizing Casinos? Maybe, Maybe Not

Numerous states across the country have legalized casino gaming in some form over the last three decades, but Texas remains a major holdout. That could change if some legislators in the House have their way but the odds may be stacked against it.

The prospect of casinos has seen major opposition in Austin for years, but that could be changing. Texas gamblers send plenty of dollars to neighboring state casinos, especially Oklahoma and Louisiana. With more states seeing tax windfalls from sports betting and other gaming enterprises, some would prefer much of that Texas money to stay within the state.

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) has proposed a plan allowing a certain number of commercial casinos. As the second most-populous state with more than 30 million people and a thriving economy, many gaming operators would love to set up shop in the Lone Star State.

Details on the Texas casino proposal

Gaming companies have lobbied hard in Texas for expanded gaming. Some traditional casino corporations envision major resort destinations complete with gaming, hotels, entertainment venues, and more. Geren’s bill attempts to allow for eight resort casinos in metropolitan areas where racetracks are located including:

  • Houston – two
  • Dallas-Fort Worth – two
  • San Antonio – one
  • McAllen – one
  • Corpus Christi – one

The bill calls for an additional open location. Horse racing interests to build a casino. Supporters believe this is a compromise to help shore up the horse industry in the state.

“The bill would reward those with one of the state’s 10 horse or dog racing licenses,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes. “They would be able to open a casino without competition or sell the right to apply for a license so another business can.”

The unspecified casino can be located anywhere as long as it’s at least 100 miles from another city with a casino. Local voters would also have to approve and a bidding process used to select the company. Texas casinos could bring in millions of dollars in revenue to the state as well as thousands of jobs to the state.

Even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has shown support for at least some added gambling options for Texans recently. That has included some support for legalized sports betting, a considerable change from his past opposition to any expanded gambling.

“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,” Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze told 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.”

Changing Texas gaming law won’t be easy

Getting any gaming legislation across the finish line won’t be a cakewalk. The state does have a lottery, horse racing, and even a tribal casino in far South Texas. Poker clubs have also thrived in recent years, despite arguments that they aren’t technically legal.

However, adding any form of new gambling is a tough sell with Republicans in control in Austin. There does seem to be more support in this legislative session than in past years, but that certainly doesn’t mean casinos will be legalized this year.

According to reports, Geren believes he has the votes in the Legislature. A bill from Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) has also been introduced for casino gaming along with a separate bill legalizing sports betting.

Despite some support in the House, reaching a vote is still in question. A companion bill in the state Senate would also need approval and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has said there is little support in the chamber for expanded gambling.

Despite that, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Houston) has put forth his own constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting. Patrick would have to play a role if a bill were to reach a vote. The lieutenant governor plays a major role in the state, referring bills to various committees.

So far Patrick says only a majority of Democrats favor expanding gambling and that means there isn’t enough support to get any bill across the finish line, much less see something out of committee.

“Unless I have 15 to 16 Republicans, meaning it’s a Republican-driven bill because we’re a Republican-driven state, I’m not bringing a bill to the floor,” he said on Dallas’s Mark Davis Show. “I need Republican consensus, otherwise it’s a Democrat bill.”

Any legislation legalizing expanded casino gambling would still need voter approval to amend the state’s constitution. That could be November if legislators reach any kind of agreement. If not, the issue will be on hold for a whole as the Texas Legislature meets only every two years.


Sean Chaffin is a longtime freelance writer, editor, and former high school journalism teacher.