Gambling has long been outlawed in Texas. That’s because the Texas constitution prohibits “sweepstakes and gift enterprises,” except for charitable activities and state lotteries.
But that could change. A proposed constitutional amendment, known as Senate Joint Resolution 17, would allow for the expansion of gambling in the state. It is if it does so through the legislature. The constitutional amendment will then be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.
A new poll from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs looks at how Texans feel about the measure. Rene Crosssenior executive and researcher at the Hobby School, spoke to Texas Standard about what their study found.
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: It appears that Senate Joint Resolution 17 will allow several gambling-related activities. Can you tell us a bit more about what’s actually on offer here?
Rene Cross: Yes, this bill from Houston State Senator Carol Alvarado allows for very specific components. There is the creation of one destination casino resort in each of the four major metro areas: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Limited casino gambling would be allowed, and existing horse and greyhound tracks, slot machines and casino gambling would be allowed on three different tribal lands. Finally, sports betting will be allowed.
There are a lot of specifics here, but also a lot of room to maneuver if the casinos can convince lawmakers to let them build here in Texas, big time. I should note that this, as I understand it, will be a vote to amend the constitution, and what will that mean? Will it be put on the ballot for voters to decide?
This is true. It will have to pass both the House and Senate and then go to voters this November.
Well, we’re saying that public opinion might be the determining factor here. What did you find out about how Texas voters feel about this measure?
Well, who would have thought that gambling would be the great unifier in Texas? But the survey certainly showed that this is an item of interest to a vast majority: 75% of Texans overall support SJR 17. And then when we break it down by various socio-demographic components, it remains high whether we’re talking about race, ethnicity, gender, partisanship, whatever. For example, 78% of men and 72% of women support it. Eighty percent of Texas Democrats and 72% of Texas Republicans support it. Even 69% of born-again Christians in Texas support this bill.
Boy, that’s a number I didn’t expect to hear. I guess the right question would be: Who exactly is opposed to this? I mean, is there anything you can glean from those numbers?
Not necessarily from those numbers, but just from reading other sources, it seems like there are some, you know, very religious Protestant organizations that are really opposed to this, at least their leadership, because it seems to me that the membership probably leans the other way way now.
Before it ever gets to the voters, as you pointed out, it will have to go through the legislature. And as we’ve seen in previous sessions, Texas gambling expansion legislation for the most part hasn’t gone down so well. In fact, it could be said to have fallen. What are your thoughts on 2023 in the 88th legislative session – do you think things have changed at the Capitol?
Well, I think it has changed. I mean, traditionally we don’t look at new revenue generators in times of prosperity, which obviously, if we have a $33 billion surplus, we’re in a time of prosperity. However, Texas is no longer the buckle of the Bible belt. I mean, we’ve had migration from other states that have gambling people. Young people flock to the state. They support gambling. So in turn, I believe legislators are more open to it. manager [Greg] Abbott, for example, is the one who said he was open to the concept. As does the Speaker [Dade] Phelan.
It was not only religious conservatives who opposed the growth of gambling. I mean, there are a lot of concerns about organized crime, at least its historical reputation as being associated or sometimes associated with gambling. Right now we know that there are several major gambling organizations that are making a big push to try to enter a very lucrative market in Texas. Do you see any of these past considerations of organized crime as a hindrance?
I don’t see that organized crime is necessarily a huge obstacle just because gambling is so widespread in the nation. And I don’t know, say, Oklahoma has a huge problem with organized crime. So I don’t think it’s a situation where we’re trying to drive the mob out of Galveston like we did a hundred years ago.
So what’s the bottom line – do you think this year could be a turning point for Texas casino gambling?
Well, I definitely think they’re in a more stable position than ever. Again, public sentiment is clearly overwhelmingly in favor of this. You have big name organizations like the ones that run the Sands out in Nevada that come and lobby for it. So I think the timing is pretty good. The only knock I see is, again, we have money right now and it’s not usually a time when you would see something like this happen.
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