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Place Your Bets: Should Texas Gamble On Legalizing Casinos For Post-Pandemic Revenue?

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Texas lawmakers could once again consider legalizing casinos in the state's 2021 legislative session — a move supporters say could help fill a $4.6 billion hole in Texas' budget amid the pandemic-induced recession.

The state currently touts some of the nation's strictest gambling laws, allowing only the lottery, bingo, dog and horse races, and three federally recognized casinos operated by Native American tribes with limited game options.

Texans who want to visit any other casinos have to go elsewhere and they do, spending a reported $2.5 billion a year at out-of-state casinos.

The Texas Tribune first reported that casino mogul and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands — one of the world's largest gaming companies — is lobbying to bring his business to the Lone Star State. Proponents say legal casinos in Texas would "blend into existing infrastructure" in a "strict regulatory environment," and would create jobs and generate tax revenue for the state.

However, the measure would require approval by a two-thirds majority in the Texas House and Senate, then voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment. Legalization has failed to gain political traction in the past. In its 2020 party platform, Texas GOP says: "We oppose and call for a veto of any budget that relies on expansion of legalized gambling as a method of finance."

What are the pros and cons of legalizing casinos in Texas? What does research say about the potential socioeconomic impacts?

Is a "sin tax" on gambling enough to rehab the state's finances? Has this strategy proven successful elsewhere?


  • Mitchell Ferman, energy and economy reporter for The Texas Tribune
  • Clyde Barrow, professor of political science and gambling policy expert at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley
  • Alan Meister, CEO and Principal Economist of Meister Economic Consulting

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*This interview was recorded on Thursday, January 6.

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