Las Vegas Sands (LVS) Corp and its influential CEO Sheldon Adelson are increasingly focusing on Texas where they hope legislators will approve a public vote on legalized casino gambling.
Earlier this week, Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government relations at LVS, confirmed recent speculation the company favors legislation to pave the way for commercial gaming properties in the state.
Any gaming bill would first need to get approval by the legislature. It would later need to get backing from residents in a statewide vote.
In the past, casino proposals failed to get traction in the state’s legislature. But now momentum is building, given Adelson’s influence and economic arguments.
During a recent conference sponsored by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, Abboud said Texas is “a worldwide destination” and “one of the top potential markets” for gambling.
Texas is considered the biggest plum still waiting to be out there in the history of hospitality and gaming,” Abboud was quoted by the Texas Tribune. “We’re proud of our product … and we want to bring it to Texas.”Andy Abboud
Under their current vision, Abboud foresees a “limited number of destination resorts in Texas,” the Tribune said. They would be located in or near the state’s larger cities.
He also favors the state setting up a “strict regulatory environment” for commercial casinos. Casino operators would need to invest a minimum of between $1 and 3 billion “so that you absolutely only get the best companies bidding and they are forced by law to build an incredible facility,” Abboud said.
In the past, the state’s Republican politicians and conservative religious leadership opposed legalizing casinos. Much of the opposition remains.
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But now, the state is facing a $4.6 billion budget shortfall following downturns in the oil and gas industry as well as the economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Casinos, sports betting, or marijuana legalization are among the options that could be considered. A marijuana bill may face stronger opposition than gambling.
Also, the state could impose “sin” taxes on gaming revenue. Casinos may also lead to economic benefits.
They [casinos] are job creators, they hire a lot of additional employees, they have tremendous purchasing power,” Abboud said during the taxpayers’ meeting. “… They are also tremendous generators of tax revenue.”Andy Abboud
Currently, there are three relatively small Native American casinos in the state. There also are greyhound and horse tracks.
Many Texans now visit out-of-state casinos. They spend at least $5 billion annually at casinos in nearby states, including Nevada, Clyde W. Barrow, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, recently told Casino.org.
Among the strongest supporters of commercial casino legalization in the state is Texas state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Port Arthur).
During the last legislative session, he introduced a bill to allow for a constitutional amendment that would permit casinos in select coastal areas. Deshotel has proposed a similar bill for the legislative session which starts in January.
“I’m very encouraged that a major casino operator is interested in Texas,” Deshotel told the Tribune on Wednesday about Adelson’s interest in Texas.
Beyond the economic argument, Adelson has influence both in Texas and nationally. He is a Republican national mega-donor.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, recently donated $75 million to a political action committee that supported President Donald Trump’s reelection. In Texas, the couple donated $4.5 million to House Republican candidates during the recent campaign.
To apparently improve his chances, Adelson’s company recently engaged 10 influential lobbyists in Texas. Many have ties to powerful politicians.
When asked about the chances for a gambling bill getting approved in Texas, Joshua M. Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project, based at the University of Texas at Austin, told Casino.org that casinos are among the likely options to get discussed.
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“The budget shortfall Texas is facing at the beginning of the 2021 legislative session is going to create the opportunity for conversations about new revenue,” Blank said. “And in Texas, tax increases aren’t on the table, so any new revenue sources will, very likely, have to come from something novel, which is why the public conversation has so far been most focused on sports gambling, casinos, marijuana, and other, similar sources.”