Gambling in Texas
A few years back when I was at a gambling symposium I spoke to a politician from the state of Texas and asked him why there were no casinos and his reply was that the people there didn’t want it. He said that while he was pro-gambling himself, the majority of Texans are deeply religious and follow the rules of the churches there, the vast majority of which are Protestant, who disapprove of gambling because the church leaders believe it is a waste of money, which would be better off funding the churches and helping the poor. I really never gave his comments much of a thought until a few weeks back when a family member from Magnolia, Texas invited us down for a visit and we decided to take the opportunity to visit with them and take in the sites of Houston and Dallas.
I was surprised to find out that there was indeed some gambling in Texas, albeit limited. The state offers various lottery games, including scratch tickets, state lotteries and the Powerball and Mega Millions lottery. Lotteries were permitted after state law was amended in 1992 to allow it. Texas also has pari-mutuel horse racing at Sam Houston race track in Houston, Lone Star Park just outside of Dallas and Retama Park in a suburb of San Antonio, and in the winter months there is limited greyhound racing near Galveston. And as far as casinos, there is an active Indian casino run by the Kickapoo Nation in Eagle Pass, Texas, around a 2 ½ mile drive Southwest of San Antonio, as well as a small Indian casino in Livingston that the state is trying to shut down. Residents apparently can also play DFS since there were signs for DraftKings on the screens at Minute Maid Park during the Houston Astros game we attended. Although, upon further review, it appears DraftKings is offering the product despite the Texas attorney general stating his opinion that DFS is illegal. The case is before the courts, but DraftKings is still allowing Texans to participate until the case is decided.
That said, the question that I still wanted answered is whether most Texans oppose gambling. My first hint to that question was when one of the relatives said she just got back from the L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana, about a 2 ½ hour drive from Houston, to fulfill the casino bug she gets every few months. I was curious and upon researching Texas gambling found that a consulting group called TXP created a report that concluded that around $2.2 billion was being wagered by Texans in neighboring states with equal amounts being bet at casinos in Louisiana and Oklahoma and a smaller amount in New Mexico. They also noted that for the casinos closest to Texas, around 47% of the license plates at the Oklahoma casinos were from Texas and over 62% of the license plates at the closest Louisiana casinos were from the state of Texas, even though many of those casinos were as far as 150 miles away.
A spokesperson for Win for Texas - the group which includes racetrack owners and which hired TXP to do the study - stated:
"Texans are spending billions of dollars — we're just not keeping it in Texas. We're no longer in competition with Las Vegas, but against Louisiana and Oklahoma."
As a result of the study, an unofficial survey was conducted among Texas residents and 56% said they approved of allowing casinos in the state. And several Texas politicians have tried to introduce bills to have gambling expanded. In 2017 bills were introduced for the expansion of gambling for several reasons including economic development, funding windstorm insurance, lowering taxes and in 2018 Andrew White, a candidate for Texas Governor, pushed for new casinos to help improve education. In almost every case the creator of the bills called on a referendum to seal the deal, but lawmakers have balked at all the bills, arguing that the Texas constitution clearly deems all forms of gambling illegal with a few exceptions like lotteries, bingo and pari-mutuel wagering. Naturally, the religious leaders in Texas have stated that Texas must not allow expanded gambling to protect the poor and the addicted.
Since I was in Texas, however, I decided to do my own research and interviewed 20 people at random and ask their opinions on casinos, sports betting and online gambling.
Five of the people I talked to were at Minute Maid Park (including a parking lot attendant), 5 people were at the stockyards in Fort Worth, 5 were at a mall in The Woodlands, Texas and 5 were at downtown eateries in Dallas. The interviewees consisted of 12 men and 8 women of various ages. Note that I approached many more but these were the only ones interested in discussing the topic, once I told them who I was. I realize it’s a small sample size and likely wouldn’t be deemed statistically significant by market research companies, but the purpose was just to get a gauge of how people felt. Here were the results:
16 of the 20 interviewed said they approved of adding casinos in Texas (8 men and all 8 women were in favor).
14 of the 20 interviewed approved of the state authorizing sports betting (10 men and half of the women approved). It’s notable that from the 5 people I spoke to at Minute Maid Park only 2 of them supported sports betting.
15 of the 20 I spoke to were in favor of the state legalizing online gambling although only 2 of those 15 said they currently gamble online with offshore companies.
The exact wording of the questions I asked were:
- If the state put the idea of allowing more casinos in Texas to a referendum would you support it?
- If Texas allowed wagering on sports would you be in favor and also would you partake? (I realize the two are separate questions asked as one).
- If the state of Texas allowed online wagering whether it’s casinos, sports, poker or horse racing would you take part. And also do you wager online now?
Here is a sample of the responses:
John, a 28 year-old from Dallas provided the following answer to sports betting:
"You’d better believe I would bet on sports. I love watching it now and how much better it would be if I could put a few dollars on the Cowboys or my SMU Mustangs. I would even bet on the Stars in the winter. I have no idea why we are being so stupid about it. This is big bucks for the state and heaven knows we need it. It seems the suits are always asking us to give them more money and this seems like an ideal way to get that money without bleeding the businesses and common folk dry. To pretend we have no gambling is stupid too. I play the lottery every Saturday and I attend the ponies at Lone Star once in a while, so how sports is different makes no sense to me. We also pay no state tax here and I want to keep it that way."
Charlene, a 50 year-old store owner in Spring, Texas stated the following about gambling in general.
"I go to Harrah’s in Shreveport every so often and I’ve even gone to that Indian casino, but it’s a dump. But I just don’t understand the thinking around gambling. The state thinks they are so moral but I sell cases of beer every day and I have to reorder Marlboros every other day. Everything is addictive and I just can’t understand why gambling is painted differently than booze or tobacco. I don’t like being told how to live my life and most of my friends feel the same way. I want the government to keep me safe from criminals, I want them to keep the roads safe and I want them to keep my taxes low. What I don’t want them doing is telling me how to spend my money. Anything to excess is bad but it’s not the government’s job to make my life choices."
Kevin, a 40 year-old from Fort Worth stated the following regarding sports betting.
"Yes, indeed I would bet on sports and I do anyways. My friends and I bet with each other and during football season I bet with a local bookie. I actually made money off him last year and he wasn’t happy about it but he has thousands of people bet with him and he makes good money off them. Naturally I would prefer to bet on sports with a legal company. Jack is a nice guy but the government needs the money more than him. And I know that Lone Star will be around to collect from. I can’t say that for sure about Jack."
Melissa, a 30 something from The Woodlands stated the following about online gambling.
"Why not? I play poker online now and love it. I used to play with PokerStars, but I now play with a smaller company and win. I played at a casino poker room once but I lost because I have a bad poker face. I like that it don’t matter how I act at home since the other players can’t see me. I also play casino games at the website I play poker with and I like being able to play at my own speed and on my own schedule. I don’t like driving 3 hours just to play. Online casinos and poker would be good for all of Texas."
Of course there were dissenters as well. Bill, the parking attendant at Minute Maid Park was adamant why he didn’t want legal sports betting in Texas.
“Hell no. The Astros, Texans, Cowboys, Cougars all have loyal fans that come because it’s fun. It’s about the competition and fans enjoy themselves win or lose. You add in gambling and it’s different. Everyone is stressed, they become violent and it’s no longer fun. You also get the media asking if the games are fixed. A player makes an error and you ask if he did it on purpose. If there is no gambling those questions don’t get asked. Keep the games fair and fun. No sports betting in Texas."
And Henry, a 60 year-old from Houston was almost sobbing when he explained why he opposes casino expansion.
"I have seen first hand the dangers of casinos. My wife had a gambling addiction and we lost our house around 20 years ago. I tried to tell her it would all be ok but she blamed herself and left because she said I was too good for her. I don’t even know where she is now. And I’m not alone I know so many people who play slots for fun, but then it becomes an addiction that they can’t control. I understand the benefits to the state in terms of revenue, but that doesn’t outweigh the costs. I don’t want casinos in Texas and to be honest I don’t support any gambling."
I’ll end the article with a favorite quote from Ken, a 20 something at the Houston Astros game regarding sports betting.
"10 bucks for a beer, 8 bucks for a lousy hot dog, 5 bucks for a program and 30 bucks to park. Yeah give me sports betting. I make 50 bucks on my Astros and I’m breaking even. Yeehaw."