88th LegislatureIssuesTaxes & SpendingRepublican Lawmaker Proposes Statewide Vote on Commercial Casinos, Sports Wagering

Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth filed a resolution to allow Texans to vote on seven commercial casinos and a sports wagering program.
February 6, 2023
A Fort Worth Republican filed a proposed constitutional amendment to permit sports wagering and allow the construction of seven commercial casinos in metropolitan areas across Texas.

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) filed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 97 on Friday, touting the potential for additional tax revenue in the state’s coffers. The Texas Constitution currently prohibits gambling with exceptions such as the Texas Lottery, philanthropic raffles, and charitable bingo, all of which require licensure.

“Polling over the last year makes it clear that more than 85 percent of Texans want the right to vote on this issue, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Geren said in a news release. “It is high time that the Legislature listens to the voters and allow them to decide this issue. I, for one, am not in the business of denying the voters of Texas their voice when their preference is so clear.”

If passed, Geren’s bill would place the issue before Texas voters in November of this year, and public opinion is certainly on Geren’s side. In a recent survey conducted by the University of Houston, three quarters of Texas adults supported a constitutional amendment to allow commercial casinos. 41 percent “strongly supported” the idea.

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However, it is important to note that participants in the survey were told that the taxes collected from casinos would be used for tax relief, education, and public safety, which is debatable.

While the legislation includes “tax relief” in the ballot language, the direct benefit to taxpayers is not immediately clear from the text. Proponents of commercial casinos often cite the possibility of capturing dollars that currently flow out of state, but HJR 97 would not necessarily require lawmakers to reduce property taxes.

In an email to The Texan, Geren’s office explained that lawmakers still need to hash out the details of how the tax revenue would be spent.

“HJR 97 creates a tax on casino gaming and lays out several authorized uses for the money as placeholders. The actual appropriation of the money for designated uses will be left up to the Legislature in both the (joint resolution) and the enabling bill,” the email read. “Specific amounts for specific purposes will likely be part of the appropriation process going forward.”

The joint resolution would not “legalize casinos” across the board, but would direct the Legislature to allow a limited number of casino licenses. Eligible applicants for a casino license would need to already have a license to conduct horse racing.

There would be two casinos allowed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, two in the Houston area, one in the San Antonio area, one in the Corpus Christi area, and one in the McAllen area. Applicants for a casino license would be required to pay a fee of $500,000 to $2.5 million, depending on geography, and commit to spending at least hundreds of millions on the construction of “destination resorts” that would include casino gambling.

The joint resolution would levy a tax of 15 percent on gross revenue at casinos, and an unspecified percentage on sports wagering to be determined by a gaming commission.

“Every year, Texas is losing billions to neighboring states that allow gaming. I believe it’s time we allow Texans to vote on bringing that money and the benefits back to Texas,” Geren added. “I look forward to making the case and working with my colleagues in the House to get this legislation passed this session.”

Texas Destination Resort Alliance, an interest group funded by Las Vegas Sands Corp., announced its support of Geren’s bill in a news release, saying it would bring “massive economic benefits to the state.” As it did two years ago, Las Vegas Sands has hired dozens of lobbyists to push for casinos at the Capitol this year.

Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) already filed a similar bill in November, but that proposal would only permit five casinos. Both Geren’s and Alvarado’s bills would also set up a sports wagering program in Texas. The UH poll was based on Alvarado’s bill.

Since a 2018 holding by the U.S. Supreme Court that sports wagering is permissible under federal law, numerous states have passed bills to legalize sports betting. Texas is among the handful of states where it is still virtually banned.

Texas has three federally-recognized Native American tribes, which will likely put up a fight if Geren’s bill is given consideration. Tribes from Oklahoma, which dominate casino gambling in the Sooner State, will undoubtedly oppose the bill as well. Louisiana’s casino gambling landscape is mostly commercial.

As they have in the past, socially conservative groups will also oppose the measure at the Capitol, citing concerns about the possibility of gambling addiction, financial loss to families, and the potential for increased reliance on welfare. However, in the UH survey, 69 percent of born-again Christians said they would vote in favor of casinos.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) said in January he favors professional casino locations, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently commented that he does not expect gambling expansion to move forward this session.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) also filed sports betting legislation on Monday, according to the Texas Sports Betting Alliance.

A copy of Geren’s legislation can be found below.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."