Gambling in Texas has never seemed more like a pipe dream, but the owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino, Sheldon Adelson, has spared no expense when it comes to hiring major lobbyists in the state.
In a recent filing, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation listed ten lobbyists that Adelson has recruited for as yet unknown purposes. These include some of the biggest names in backdoor Texas politics. Among the hired guns are Drew DeBerry, former staffer in the President George W. Bush administration and an former senior adviser to Governor Greg Abbott; former Texas Speaker of the House’s chief of staff Gavin Massingill; and Mike “The Enforcer” Toomey (aka Mike the Knife), former chief of staff to Governor Rick Perry and the man Texas Monthly once called, “the most powerful—and the most feared—nonelected person in Texas politics today.” As Robert A. Heinlein once said, “you don’t hunt rabbits with an elephant gun.”
What’s somewhat bizarre about Adelson’s dream team of movers and shakers is what exactly the billionaire hopes to accomplish in Texas. Many of his most recent political fights have been against the legalization of online gambling, which threatens his traditional brick and mortar establishments. Since 2011, he’s invested large sums of money trying to expand the 1961 Wire Act to stop online gambling under the guise of it being a public health nuisance. This has met with mixed results, though the ascension of Bill Barr to Attorney General paved the way for Adelson to get his way when Barr’s Department of Justice released an opinion that restored the illegality of many online gambling forms.
Obviously, the many states that have expanded online gambling are fighting that, but Texas is not one of them. In fact, Texas has made it quite clear that online gambling is not welcome in the state. In 2015, the Texas Gambling Commission went on a fact-finding expedition related to online gambling, and Abbott smothered the entire operation in its crib. He immediately shut down any further work on the matter after the commission went to Delaware to study their online sports and fantasy sports practices. Texas would appear to be one of the few places Adelson doesn’t have to worry about competing with digital gaming.
Adelson is looking for new places to build casinos, and has made moves to sell the Las Vegas strip properties. However, Texas is very unlikely to be the home of his newest empire. If the state is vehemently against online gaming, it’s been near fanatical when it comes to physical casinos.
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta tribes have been in long, and sometimes bizarre, legal fights with the states over their bingo halls. A hodge-podge of conflicting state and federal legislation and legal opinions have kept the groups in court over the issue. What’s not confusing is the state’s complete opposition. Despite a bipartisan effort from the Texas delegation in Congress led by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Port Arthur), no relief has been forthcoming for the tribes. Both Senators Cruz and Cornyn have been cagey on the matter, deferring to Abbott.
Abbott, meanwhile, has vehemently opposed gambling, even by the tribes, and has refused to meet with them over their grievances. He also opposed Babin’s proposed legislation in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, saying it was an attack on the rights of the state to govern itself.
Which all leads to the question: if Texas tribes with the backing of the federal government and bipartisan support in Congress can’t secure casinos, and online gambling is dead on arrival, then what is Adelson doing in the state with some of the most powerful backdoor men around? It’s true that the state is looking down the barrel at a massive budget deficit, something the already overburdened state legislature will have to tackle along with the coronavirus and record unemployment when it meets in January, but marijuana legalization is far closer to being tried as a fundraiser than gambling. We’ll have to see what the mogul’s money starts to do when the Texas Legislature returns to work.
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