Could Dallas Mavericks’ sale to gaming matriarch lead to casino gambling in Texas?

Could Dallas Mavericks’ sale to gaming matriarch lead to casino gambling in Texas?

Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban and the family that controls the Las Vegas Sands Corp. are betting that the Texas Legislature will one day allow voters to approve casino gambling.

The pending sale of a majority stake in the Mavericks to Miriam Adelson, the widow of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, indicates the gaming company views Texas gambling expansion as a strong possibility, if not a certainty.

There are still considerable obstacles.

Allowing casino gambling, even the splashy resorts envisioned by Cuban and Sands, is a tough sell in the Legislature. Historically, efforts to expand gaming have taken many years, sometimes decades.

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Cuban likely hopes that selling a majority stake of the Mavericks to Adelson will mollify wary lawmakers, because she would be transformed into a local figure instead of an out-of-towner looking to expand her business interest to the Texas market.

“While you can see the advantages to having a closer association with Texas that come out of this for Sands and the pro-gambling forces, I’m still not sure it does anything to change the basic obstacles that gambling proponents have seen to date,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

“It doesn’t necessarily translate into legislative success,” he said, “but it does seem like another component of the long play and will create another center of gravity around the issue.”

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban, center, poses with Dr. Miriam Adelson and Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson during the Adelson Educational Campus’ 13th annual In Pursuit of Excellence Gala at The Venetian hotel-casino in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 26, 2017. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto(Chase Stevens)

Polls show most Texans support casino gambling, as well as sports betting. It’s a matter of time, political observers say, before both are legal in Texas. The Mavericks sale could be a guidepost on that path.

“The lottery took forever to get done because people had similar kinds of concerns about the nature of gambling and it being introduced into Texas,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “In a similar sense, casino gaming in Texas is a steady build over time that’s likely to produce an outcome the gambling advocates are going to want to see.”

Robert Kohler, the longtime lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention, said casino gambling is still a longshot. He said the issue is not discussed by elected leaders when they campaign for legislative office.

“Until you see House candidates or Senate candidates at the Rotary Clubs before the primaries telling folks that they support gambling, they’re not going to make that vote in the Legislature,” said Kohler, who’s ready to fight against the expansion of gambling in Texas.

He said the sale of the Mavericks to Adelson is similar to gaming companies buying race tracks or other entities in Texas in hopes of one day cashing in, if casinos and sports betting are allowed in such facilities.

“That purchase is not unlike what’s been done through the years, where certain gaming entities have come in and purchased a seat at the table,” Kohler said. “They’re rich folks wanting to get in the front of the line, and that doesn’t guarantee anything.”

The immediate legislative impact of the sale is partly clouded by the upcoming election season.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, sponsored a sprawling casino gambling bill that this year made it to the House floor. He said he didn’t know enough about the Mavericks situation to comment on the sale.

Geren did say the overall prospects of casino gambling would be determined by the 2024 legislative elections. There will be numerous challenges of House incumbents when the filing period for the March 5 primaries closes later this month.

Once the election season ends, you’ll know the makeup of the new Legislature and how it could impact the push for expanded gambling in Texas, Geren said.

Geren pointedout that the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presides, hasn’t had the votes for casino gambling.

With the upcoming election season underway, casino gambling opponents in the Legislature say the Mavericks sale doesn’t change the score.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Mark Cuban or anyone else, we’re going to fight to stop more gambling in Texas,” said state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano.

After years of futility, the push for expanded gambling in Texas saw movement during this year’s regular legislative session.

A bill that would allow mobile sports betting passed the House in a historic vote but died in the Senate. Another bill that would let voters decide on destination casino resorts, long thought to be unpopular in the Legislature, made it to the House floor before dying.

Though Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and an increasing number of House members say they are open to resort-style casino gambling, the Senate and Patrick appear unmoved.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tells prosecution and defense attorneys to stop talking over each...
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tells prosecution and defense attorneys to stop talking over each other during day 8 of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial in the Senate chamber at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

During the regular legislative session, Patrick told The Dallas Morning News that the votes were not there to approve sports betting or casino gambling. When asked his personal view, he said it didn’t matter because the Senate didn’t have the votes to expand Texas gambling.

“Patrick has been a major obstacle to advancing gaming in Texas,” Rottinghaus said. “In Texas, trying to go around the lieutenant governor is like trying to bet against the house.”

Proponents of sports betting and casino gambling have been perplexed that Patrick may be standing in the way of expanded gambling. The 73-year-old Republican’s term ends in 2026. He’s indicated that he’s running for reelection.

“It’s dead for next session and if Patrick runs again, casino gambling will continue to be dead,” said lobbyist and political consultant Bill Miller, who pushed sports betting during this year’s regular session. “If he doesn’t run again, all bets are off.”

There could also be problems getting a casino gambling bill through the House. The 2024 primaries could have over 50 contested races that could change the makeup of the Legislature. Since gambling is rarely an issue in primary elections, it’s hard to gauge the impact of new lawmakers — particularly conservative Republicans — becoming part of the political scene.

Issues in the GOP primary elections are expected to include a backlash against incumbent House Republicans who voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton and Abbott’s slate of candidates in favor of implementing a Texas voucherlike program.

When the dust settles, the politics of gambling will join other topics for the 2025 legislative session.

The big difference from this year’s session: Cuban’s sale of the Mavericks to Adelson.

The sight of Miriam Adelson at a Mavericks home game may not be enough to make Las Vegas Sands more local, but it won’t hurt, observers say.

“In the long term, it will make it a little more difficult to portray Sands as having a 100% outside interest and those things do matter in Texas,” Henson said of the sale of the Mavericks to the Sands family.

According to Forbes, Miriam Adelson and her family are worth $32 billion as of Dec. 1. An Israeli-born physician, she has led the family since her husband died in January 2021. Her son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, is president of Sands, which owns casinos in Singapore and Macau.

FILE - Miriam Adelson, wife of Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican...
FILE – Miriam Adelson, wife of Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson, listens as President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Miriam Adelson, the controlling shareholder of casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp., plans to sell $2 billion in company stock and buy an unspecified professional sports franchise, the company announced Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is working on a deal to sell a majority stake in the NBA franchise to the Adelson family, a person with knowledge of the talks said late Tuesday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)(Patrick Semansky / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The pending deal, if finalized and approved by the NBA Board of Governors, would merge the interests of Cuban and the Las Vegas Sands Corp. They both want to build a Dallas resort casino and arena, if gambling is legalized in Texas.

A major sports team owned by a person with interest in gambling is not new. The Houston Rockets are owned by Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire who controls a hospitality empire that includes restaurants and casinos outside of Texas.

Fertitta, like others pushing gambling expansion, is playing the long game.

Expanding gambling has been a nonstarter in Texas, a rich state with a diverse economy that doesn’t need gaming for additional revenue. Texas currently allows the lottery, bingo and horse and greyhound racing. Also, Texas has three tribal casinos, which are allowed to operate under federal law.

Texas voters approved the constitutional amendment allowing the return of legal wagering on horse racing in 1987. Then they voted to legalize the state lottery in 1991. Both measures passed by a 2-to-1 margin.

Sands is prepared for a long struggle, officials there have said.

At the beginning of this year’s regular session in Austin, they hired at least 63 lobbyists, more than any other company or entity. The company pledged to pay its lobbyists up to $5.9 million this year, according to data from the Texas Ethics Commission.

The company has also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.

It’s unclear if resort-style gaming will build on the momentum it had this year, albeit in a losing effort.

“We still have work to do,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, on Sunday’s edition of Lone Star Politics, a political show produced by KXAS-TV (NBC5) and The Dallas Morning News.

“We got a lot further than we’ve ever been,” she added, noting that Geren’s bill for resort-style casinos, including at least two in North Texas, got 92 votes. It needed 100 to force a public vote on the matter.

“The Sands people and others in the gaming industry have been investing in Texas now for quite a number of years,” Alvarado said. “I know that they’re going to continue that investment, and I’m going to continue doing my part in the legislative process.”

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