How Texas Gambling Expansion Could Spark Convention Transformation

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Texas is not a gambling-friendly state. It has some of the toughest anti-gambling laws in the country. Casinos are illegal, but even simple games like roulette are against the law. Even worse, social gambling like having a poker night among friends violates Texas law. (But that doesn’t mean a Texas Ranger will break your door down for doing it.) But the final nail in the coffin seems to be Texas’ highest elected officials’ continued opposition to gambling expansion. The Governor, President of the Senate, and Attorney General all oppose gambling.

However, Republicans are split on this issue. Free-market Republicans are open to allowing gambling if it creates jobs and boosts the economy. Religious conservative Republicans view gambling as immoral and fear consequences for Texas families succumbing to some sort of moral rot. (Whether they realize it or not, both groups value the freedom for people to make their own choices differently.) Theoretically, that leaves room for Democrats to provide the necessary votes to relax Texas’ gambling laws.

But the Texas leadership will stop any gambling legislation from coming to a vote, much less passing it. But shortly before his death, GOP mega-doner Sheldon Adelson began a lobbying push for Texas politicians to allow casino gambling. Seemingly in response, Governor Abbott has also signaled that he’d be open to gambling expansion if Texas voters wanted it. That won’t change the minds of voters who believe gambling is wrong as a first principle. But Republicans in favor of creating competitive industries may not have considered an underrated perk of gambling legalization: large gambling conventions.

What Conventions Would Bring To Texas

The Global Gaming Expo is one of the largest gambling conventions in the world. One of the events it hosts is in Las Vegas, but the convention holds events worldwide. In 2019, its Las Vegas convention generated $42.1 million and brought about 26,000 visitors to Vegas. The money is one thing–paying for convention space is one great source of revenue. But the visitors can boost revenue for a city while they’re visiting for the convention. These visitors will frequent local restaurants and other shops. Any city that thrives on tourism has a stake in gambling legalization.

If Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio became home to a gambling convention, they would enjoy another large event to profit from. All three cities have venues suitable for hosting conventions. These gambling conventions would also make Texas one of the premier gambling markets in the United States. Becoming a prestigious gathering place for industry leaders would attract other innovative companies, too. However, Texas would have to make a big decision about its future–could such a conservative state house these gambling conventions?

Reinventing Texas’ Image

Although Texas’ large cities house some progressives, most of the state is a sea of Republicans. Many of them find gambling abhorrent on principle. If Texas allowed gambling and the big conventions found new homes in the Lone Star State, these voters would have a backlash ready for Republicans who strayed from their party line. Legalizing gambling and attracting gambling conventions wouldn’t just change Texas’ economic landscape. It would change Texas’ conservative image, which some voters will find unacceptable.

So, Texas Republicans have a big challenge on their hands. On the one hand, powerful GOP doners want casinos to open in Texas, giving them the chance to become first-movers in a new–and massive–gambling market. However, Republicans are being pulled the other way by the morality police in their party. These members would view this as moral rot on the great state of Texas, and they won’t go down without a fight. If gambling expansion comes to Texas, these Republicans should be expected to fight back against whatever gains the gambling industry makes.

Whether Casino Gambling Will Come To Texas

Although gambling expansion could include many new types of gambling, casino gambling is the one that Sheldon Adelson pushed for. Given his wife’s, Dr. Miriam Adelson’s, behind-the-scenes influence as a political donor, she’ll likely push for the Texas market to open too. The pressure is on Texas Republicans to decide how to balance the demands of their largest donors against the most passionate members of their caucus and voters.

Attracting gaming conventions to Texas would be exciting for big Texas cities. Conventions like the Global Gaming Expo generate millions of dollars in revenue and attract tens of thousands of visitors. Embracing gambling would change Texas’ anti-gambling image, which social and religious conservatives view with a sense of pride. There are more important issues to them than money, which will inflame tensions on the few issues that can split Republicans.

So, the battle for Texas’s image and future is on. Gambling proponents have a good chance of winning the war in the long run. Money is a powerful political influence, and wealthy donors can fund campaigns that will advance their interests. But as Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign showed, money isn’t everything. Voters still have to take the presented candidate seriously. But that constant pressure will bend establishment Republicans over time, and Governor Abbott already seems a little bendy.

It’ll be expensive, but gambling will eventually creep into Texas. The conventions will likely follow, raising serious questions for Texas voters concerned about gambling’s morality. After that, the story will shift from conventions’ economic impacts to its impact on voters who vehemently oppose it. It’ll be a great show for the rest of us.

About the Author
Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher

Writer and Contributor
Christopher Gerlacher is a Senior Writer and contributor for Gaming Today. He is a versatile and experienced writer with an impressive portfolio who has range from political and legislative pieces to sports and sports betting. He's a devout Broncos fan, for better or for worse, living in the foothills of Arvada, Colorado.

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