Speaker of the Texas House Ready to Open Appointment-style Casinos in the State

Austin. Speaker of the House Dade Phelan is ready to open a resort-style casino in Texas.

In a brief interview with reporters Thursday, the Beaumont Republican said he believes voters will approve a constitutional amendment needed to expand gambling in the state.

“What I don’t want to see is walk into every convenience store and see 15 slot machines,” Phelan said. “I want to see high-quality, destination-style casinos that create jobs and improve the lifestyle of these communities.”

He described resorts equipped with golf courses, hotels and concert venues as “major economic providers”.

Attempts to spread gambling in Texas have come to nothing in past sessions, but the industry is gearing up for another massive push to bring gaming into one of the last major markets without it.

Phelan’s words of encouragement signal that the issue may be gaining momentum, though leaders in other states are cooler.

Once a tough opponent, Gov. Greg Abbott said last fall that he would consider expanding casino gambling with the right offer. The representative said Houston Chronicle that Abbott doesn’t want slot machines on every corner, but “if there’s a way to create very professional entertainment for Texans, Governor Abbott will look into it.”

In December, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate, told Austin-based KXAN that he “doesn’t see any change on this.”

In the last session, Las Vegas Sands said the Dallas-Fort Worth area would be a prime target for a casino resort if gambling was legalized due to its strong convention and tourism industry and proximity to airports.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently spoke about this. Dallas Morning News his goal, in partnership with Las Vegas Sands, is to build a new arena in the middle of a resort and casino. “This is a mission,” he said in December.

The Sands team, one of several campaigning to expand gambling this session, has already attracted 35 lobbyists this year with a potential price tag of up to $2.7 million, according to records filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. At least four are former lawmakers, former senators Leticia van de Putte and Buster Brown, and former representatives Jim Keffer and Mike Toomey.

Mark Cuban has a Vegas-like vision for Dallas, the new Mavs arena if Texas approves casino gambling.

Former Abbott political guru John Colandro and Gavin Massingill, who was chief of staff to former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, are also on board.

Sports betting is also active and is represented by former Gov. Rick Perry.

Phelan, who lives a stone’s throw from casino gambling in Louisiana, said the expansion isn’t about revenue, which he says isn’t all that big in the overall state budget scheme.

“This is what the voters want,” he said. “I think the average voter would approve of that in our day and that has changed in the last 20 years.”

To expand any form of gambling, two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate must sign, and then the proposal must be presented to Texas voters in a constitutional amendment election. Legislators have until early March to submit bills.

“If a member is personally against it,” Phelan said, “he can obviously let his constituents ultimately decide if it’s right or not.”

Austin Bureau reporter Lauren McGaughey contributed to this report.

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