The Sands, among the world’s largest gaming companies, has set its sights on legalizing casinos in the state with a stable of high-powered lobbyists for the upcoming legislative session . Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands’ top lobbyist, said the company was pursuing Texas as one of only a few expansion options.
“We view Texas as a worldwide destination and one of the top potential markets in the entire world,” Abboud said during a conference hosted by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “Texas is considered the biggest plum still waiting to be out there in the history of hospitality and gaming.”
Abboud made a robust pitch for legalizing casino gambling in Texas. He proposed a “limited number of destination resorts in Texas,” in or near big cities, that would not aim to replicate Las Vegas but would “blend into existing infrastructure.” He said a “strict regulatory environment” would be an “absolute requirement.” And he urged lawmakers to require bidders to make a “minimum investment of $1 or $2 or $3 billion dollars.
Las Vegas Sands’ interest in Texas is coming to light after a November election in which Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson. The couple gave $4.5 million in September to a Texas.
Previous efforts to legalize casino gambling in Texas have not taken off, though the appetite could be different this session, when lawmakers are faced with a $4.6 billion budget shortfall. That has generated speculation about new revenue sources, including “sin taxes” such as legalizing casino gambling and marijuana.
State leaders have shown little openness to more gaming in Texas, let alone casino gambling. In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott said he “wholeheartedly” supported Texas’ gaming restrictions while ordering state lottery officials to stop exploring sports betting games.The state has some of the strictest gambling laws in the country, but there are a few exceptions where the practice is allowed, such as bingo, the state lottery, and at horse or greyhound dog races. Through court decisions and legislation in the 1980s, three federally recognized Native American tribes operate casinos with limited games — in Eagle Pass, El Paso and Livingston.
Speculation about Adelson’s plans mounted in recent weeks as Las Vegas Sands hired 10 lobbyists who are deeply connected at the Capitol.
While Abboud spoke effusively Tuesday about the potential for Texas to become a world-class destination for casino gambling.
“We should be very clear,” Abboud said. “We will never pretend to say that we will solve all the economic problems of a state. We will help diversify an economy because of the wide range of taxes that we pay.”In Texas, for example, casino gambling could help guard against the volatility of the oil and gas industry, Abboud said.
Asked if Las Vegas Sands has found states to be more amenable to casinos if their revenue is dedicated to something like public education, Abboud said Las Vegas Sands has not taken a position on that, believing it is a decision best left up to lawmakers.