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Can Gambling Donors Save Dade Phelan?

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is in the fight for his political life at the moment, but it looks like he may have a savior in gambling interest donors.

Despite being a very popular Republican House Speaker who delivered some of the largest conservative wins in Texas history, the far-right wing of Phelan’s own party has been seeking to replace him. Governor Greg Abbott blames him for not delivering a school voucher bill. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is still stinging from a brutal fight over property tax reform. Attorney General Ken Paxton wants revenge for his impeachment.

These three top Republicans have some very wealthy backers, including oil and gas moguls Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks and their  Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC. That PAC gave $400,000 to Phelan’s primary runoff opponent, David Covey, with Patrick’s PAC giving another $100,000. Add in half a million from wealthy Amarillo businessman and school voucher activist Alex Fairly, and it’s quite a chunk of change for a state House contest.

Phelan seems to have his own new powerful (read: wealthy) friends. On April 30, a new PAC called Texas Defense was formed. The woman behind it is Miriam Adelson, widow of Sands casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has been looking to expand casino gambling into the Lone Star State.

In contrast to Abbott and Patrick, Phelan has shown interest in casino gambling. For one, his Beaumont district is within easy driving distance of several legal casinos located across the Louisiana line.

“I want to see destination-style casinos that are high quality and that create jobs and that improve the lifestyle of those communities,” he said in a 2023 media briefing.

Adelson’s PAC has given Phelan $512,163.74 for re-election. She’s not the only gambling interest either. The related Texas Sands PAC donated $100,000. The Chickasaw Nation also kicked in $25,000.

The inclusion of native money adds another wrinkle. For years, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta tribes have been fighting for the survival of their bingo halls. Abbott, who has remained firmly anti-expansion of gambling, continuously puts off their petitions despite federal law likely being on their side.

Overall, Phelan is doing very well on the money front. He has five times as much cash on hand as Covey according to the latest filings and has outspent his opponent 6-1. In addition to the new flood of gambling money, Phelan still has access to most of the old Republican guard fundraising networks. Plus, he has the backing of several groups who feel that Abbott and company have gone too radical in the last two legislative cycles.

That said, Covey beat Phelan in the primary, with the House Speaker coming second. Covey may have less money, but he does have access to a fanatical faction of the party that believes Phelan is little more than a Democrat in Republican clothing because he did not stop Paxton’s impeachment and refused to end the tradition of appointing opposition committee chairs.

Will Adelson’s cash be enough to overcome that accusation? We’ll find out on May 28.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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