Texas House Speaker Phelan Secures Primary Victory, Boosting Las Vegas Sands’ Casino Ambitions

Erik Gibbs

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In a closely watched and closely contested primary, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan defeated challenger David Covey by 366 votes Wednesday. The win was significant for his political career, as well as for the potential casino interests of Las Vegas Sands (LVS).

LVS has been lobbying for the legalization of casinos in Texas. Phelan’s victory, supported by substantial financial backing from LVS and its affiliates, could mark a pivotal moment for the future of casino legislation in the state.

For years, LVS has been relentless in its efforts to expand into Texas, a state where gambling is currently limited to horse and dog racing, charitable bingo, and the state lottery. The global gaming powerhouse, under the leadership of Miriam Adelson, has invested heavily in political campaigns and lobbying efforts to sway lawmakers and public opinion in favor of casino legalization.

With Phelan at the helm of the Texas House, LVS hopes to see more favorable conditions for introducing and passing legislation that would allow the construction and operation of casinos in Texas. This could open up a lucrative new market for the company, tapping into the state’s vast population and tourism potential.

Even political contributions are bigger in Texas

Over the past few years, LVS has spent millions on lobbying efforts in Texas. In 2021 alone, the company poured over $10 million into lobbying activities. These efforts have included hiring prominent lobbyists, funding political action committees (PACs), and contributing directly to supportive political candidates.

Adelson, the widow of LVS founder Sheldon Adelson, has been a particularly influential figure in these endeavors. As the top financial backer of Phelan’s campaign, Adelson’s support has been both strategic and substantial, per The Real Deal. Alongside the Texas Sands PAC, Adelson and LVS-backed entities contributed almost $850,000 to Phelan’s re-election campaign, underscoring the corporation’s commitment to gaining a foothold in Texas.

Adelson personally contributed $50,000 to Phelan’s campaign, while the Texas Sands PAC provided $315,000. This level of financial support has made Phelan the largest recipient of LVS’ political contributions in the state.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has also received significant contributions from Texas Sands, amounting to $200,000. Patrick’s position as president of the Texas Senate makes him another key figure in the legislative process, although he hasn’t expressed much interest in legalizing casinos.

In May of last year, Patrick said in a Twitter (now X) post that the Senate GOP wasn’t behind casino gambling. He added, “We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support.”

However, things can change in a year, as other states have proven. With one survey suggesting that 75% of Texans would support casino legalization, lawmakers have to take everything into consideration.

More work and lobbying ahead

The road to casino legalization in Texas remains fraught with challenges. The state’s conservative political landscape and strong opposition from certain quarters mean that any push for gambling expansion will likely face rigorous scrutiny and debate.

Proponents argue that legalizing casinos could generate substantial economic benefits, including job creation, increased tourism, and additional tax revenue. Opponents, on the other hand, cite concerns over social issues such as gambling addiction and crime.

Despite these hurdles, LVS remains optimistic. The company’s significant investments in Texas politics reflect a long-term strategy to build support and lay the groundwork for eventual legalization. Phelan’s primary victory in a deep-red district any Republican candidate would be expected to carry in November, supported by the substantial financial backing of LVS and Adelson, represents a crucial step in this strategy.

Whether or not casino legalization becomes a reality in Texas will depend on a complex interplay of political negotiations, public opinion, and the strategic maneuvers of influential stakeholders like LVS. For now, however, Phelan’s expected re-election has given the corporation a vital ally in the fight to bring casinos to the Lone Star State.