How a perfect storm has created the ideal time and reason to reboot the Astrodome

Photos by: Wiki photo, Harris County Sports Corps via HBJ. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Did you read where the Chicago Cubs are planning to put a sports betting room right there at Wrigley Field? The Cubs are the first Major League Baseball team to acknowledge, embrace – and will host – sports betting at its stadium. Once approved by Illinois legislators, the sportsbook at Wrigley will be operated by DraftKings.

Capital One Arena in Washington D.C., home to the Washington Wizards basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey team, already is clearing space for a sports gambling room.

Imagine that, Cubs fans can arrive at Wrigley Field during batting practice, lay down a bet on the Cubs to win, watch the game, have a couple of beers and pick up their winnings on their way out.

Or tear up their losing bet tickets.

Announcing the deal with DraftKings, Cubs official Crane Kenney said, "An increasing number of sports fans want to integrate sports betting into their game experience, and we're excited to be one of the first to engage in developing a retail sportsbook at a professional sports venue."

Wouldn't it be something if Texas allowed a sports gambling room at Minute Maid Park or Toyota Center or NRG Stadium?

Or the Astrodome! Why do I have to come up with every good idea around here?

Houston's iconic, Space Age building isn't busy these days - not since Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo squashed a $105 million project to renovate the Dome. The Dome makeover was a pet project of her predecessor, Ed Emmett.

"The plan that had been designed wouldn't have yielded truly a usable building," Hidalgo said. "Right now we don't have specific plans for the Astrodome. It's just not a priority."

So the Astrodome sits empty and unloved, slowly sinking deeper in despair. It's sad to walk by the once-mighty stadium on our way to eat turkey legs and watch Alan Jackson perform at the Rodeo. Gee, I hope he sings that Chattahoochee song.

The thing is, the Astrodome's structure is sound. It just needs lots of money, a new coat of paint, some TLC and a visit by the Orkin man. My position: either fix it up or tear it down. Letting it fade away and rot is ridiculous. It makes us look stupid.

Many ideas to renovate and repurpose the Astrodome have been floated in recent years. Some were kooky, like indoor ski jumping and a Wild West movie studio. Some made sense, like a new convention center and hotel in the same historic building.

But nothing makes more sense than creating one of the world's largest casino, hotel and convention center complexes. Of course, this would require the approval of the Texas Legislature. However, a bill to legalize sports betting and casino gambling would have to be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, which would be a bad beat.

Of course, the final say should rest with Texas voters, but our fearless leaders in Austin refuse to put sports betting or casino gambling on a ballot, where approval would be a lock.

Fun facts: WinStar World Casino, the largest casino on Earth, is located in Thackerville, Oklahoma, just north of Texas. Louisiana, our neighbor to the east, has 28 casinos.

You know what WinStar World Casino and all those casinos in Louisiana have in common? Their parking lots are filled with cars with Texas license plates. We're missing out on millions of dollars.

It can't be that our governor is opposed to gambling, because we have the Texas Lottery (a sucker's play), horse racing, dog racing and bingo. Meanwhile, Sam Houston Race Park has limited live racing days and Gulf Greyhound Park closed its doors back in June.

I wonder why Abbott is against casinos. Any guesses?

A Texas-sized casino and hotel within the Astrodome would be a monster hit. Just think, tipsy convention goers wouldn't have to stumble outside for their Uber pickup. Texans fans could drop by the casino for some action before walking to NRG Stadium for football games. The NRG Park has tons of parking space. It's all right there.

The Woodlands did it right. When there's a Friday or Saturday night concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, fans often make a weekend of it. They spend money on concert tickets, restaurants and hotels in The Woodlands.

Repurposing the Astrodome into a casino and hotel would be a windfall for Houston and Harris County. Maybe we could present the Dome to Texas' superstar renovators Chip and Joanne Gaines as a Fixer Upper. Restaurants along 610 would thrive. Fans could spend weekends around a Texans game. Families could spend more days at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Rolling Stones fans could spend $50 plus tax for a $5 T-shirt.

Spend, spend, spend. That's the whole idea. We sort of could use a few extra bucks around here.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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