Geren-backed push to allow casinos falls short in House

A cup bearing the message “I’d rather be at the casino” sits on the desk of Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, on the Texas House floor on April 6. Geren was a leader in the effort to legalize casinos in Texas. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

The high-profile push to bring casinos to Texas this legislative session ended Friday after supporters acknowledged that they did not have enough votes to advance it out of the state House.

Authors of the legislation postponed consideration until dates after the session ends, dooming the initiative ahead of a midnight deadline for House approval.

“Members, I do know when it’s time to fold ’em,” Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said as he postponed consideration of House Joint Resolution 155 until Jan. 12, 2027.

Earlier in the day, Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, postponed his related bill until Nov. 29.

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The developments came a day after a separate proposal to legalize online sports betting made it out of the House by a razor-thin margin. That legislation faces long odds in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has repeatedly downplayed the prospects of expanding gaming.

Both proposals landed in precarious positions earlier this week in the House when they cleared an initial hurdle but fell short of the 100 votes needed to receive final passage. The sports-betting proposal got 97 votes, while the casino legislation got 92.

Those votes sent gaming advocates scrambling to find additional support ahead of the Friday deadline. Sports-betting supporters pulled it off Thursday, winning 101 votes on a final vote that was so close it required a member-by-member verification.

But casino supporters could not round up enough support. They postponed consideration of their proposal three times Thursday as they tried to find 100 votes.

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Both proposals have nonetheless made more progress than they did in the 2021 session, when gaming supporters first descended on Austin for a massive lobbying blitz. The casino legislation has been backed by the gaming empire Las Vegas Sands, while the sports-betting proposal has been spearheaded by a coalition of pro sports teams in Texas and wagering platforms.

Sands’ senior vice president of government relations, Andy Abboud, released a statement Friday afternoon expressing optimism and promising to continue to “press forward with our efforts in Texas.”

“Our efforts to bring destination resorts to Texas took an extraordinary step forward with the vote in the Texas House of Representatives,” Abboud said. “Although it narrowly fell short of the two-thirds threshold of support required for a constitutional amendment, there is no question that our efforts are on the right track.”

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, carried the sports-betting legislation in the House, and a fellow Republican, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, is shepherding it in the upper chamber. Despite Patrick’s resistance, Leach expressed optimism late Thursday that the Senate will move on the proposal.

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“I look forward to building on our success with Senator Kolkhorst and our Senate colleagues to get this legislation across the finish line and allow the voters a voice in whether we have a legal, regulated sports betting market in Texas,” Leach said in a statement.

Disclosure: Las Vegas Sands Corp. has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.