How an unlikely lobbyist could shape the future of the Astrodome

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

If you thought 2020 was a year of political chaos and bitter fighting, just wait for 2021, when the stakes will be even higher for ordinary Texans, especially folks who'd like to put $100 on the Rockets laying the points against the Lakers. You know, an issue that's really important.

First Amendment supporters, who love the Texans at 9 points over the Bengals this Sunday even more than freedom of speech, have their best chances ever at seeing casino and sports gambling legalized in the Lone Star State.

That's because multi-billionaire Vegas resort owner Sheldon Adelson is turning his crack team of lobbyists loose on Texas legislators to approve casino gambling in 2021. The Texas legislature meets only in odd-numbered years, and coming off the controversial presidential election and hoped-for end to the COVID-19 pandemic, you'll never find an odder year than 2021.

On one side, you have Adelson and, according to polls, the majority of Texans who would like to see casino gambling in Texas. On the other side, you see conservatives, Gov. Greg Abbott and presumably billionaire Tilman Fertitta who oppose casino gambling here.

Texas has among the strictest laws against gambling in the country, although bingo, horse and dog racing and the Texas Lottery are OK.

Here's how the Lottery works: you walk into a corner convenience store and buy $20 worth of scratch off tickets. You take a nickel and start scratching. You'll "win" about $10. You take that tenner and march back into the convenience store and buy a Slurpee and $8 worth of more Lottery tickets. This time, you "win" $4. Repeat until you have nothing left in your pocket except the nickel you used to lose your money.

Fertitta, a six-figure donor to Republican Abbott, wouldn't want gambling approved in Texas because he owns the Golden Nugget casino-resort sitting just over the state line in Louisiana. Without Texans driving to the Nugget, that place would dry up like his nationwide restaurant receipts during the pandemic. Although Fertitta, who owns the Houston Rockets, will reap a $40 million payroll reduction pretty soon, whenever the Rockets find a trade partner for James Harden.

If money talks, casino gambling may be a solid pick to pass in Texas. Adelson is worth $34 billion and donates millions to Republican state legislators. He has assembled a high-powered team of lobbyists to woo those lawmakers and remind them who's their buddy. Let the expensive dinners begin. More wine! More caviar! More votes!

Fetitta is a relative ham 'n' egger worth "only" $4 billion and something. But he's big buddies with Gov. Abbott, who's dug in his heels against casinos.

Adelson's group portrays Texas as the last great frontier for casino gambling in America. Texas already has a couple of casinos on Native American land, the closest to Houston being Naskila Gaming in Livingston, about 70 miles north by northwest. Don't expect a full-service casino, however. Naskila Gaming has three restaurants and 800 electronic games (slots and video poker).

Adelson doesn't wish to create new cities for gambling. You remember Hyman Roth's lecture to Michael Corleone in Godfather II: "Later he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stopover for GIs on the way to the west coast. That kid's name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town. Someone put a bullet through his eye."

Instead Adelson wants to build gleaming, expensive buildings near Texas' major cities. Galveston would seem a natural, geographically speaking. It's a quick drive from Houston, except during rush hours, it's near water and there's available space for new resort development.

Although Galveston perhaps doesn't need casino gambling like other struggling parts of Texas. Former Galveston mayor Lewis Rosen says Galveston is doing quite well without casino gambling, thank you.

"Galveston is a boom town right now," Rosen said. "Hotels are full, restaurants are packed, home prices are high, rentals are going fast. The thing about casinos is, people go to them, they gamble, eat, sleep and shop in that casino hotel, they don't really support local businesses. Plus Galveston doesn't have the infrastructure, like roads and water, to handle large casino resorts."

Rosen believes that the Texas legislature may pass a bill to legalize casino gambling, but leave it up to local communities to decide if they want a casino built within their city limits. Rosen thinks Galveston residents would vote against casinos.

However, he thinks a city like La Marque may give a thumbs up. After all, there's an abandoned dog track with a massive parking lot sitting there, an eyesore bringing in no money.

Wait a minute, hmm, don't we have one of those? A hundred times bigger than the dog track. A building that would be perfect for a casino-hotel, on the outskirts of Houston, with plenty of infrastructure and utilities and parking, with an available workforce?

The Astrodome!

Sheldon Adelson … do your thing! You can be the Moe Greene of Houston. Just keep an eye out (not literally) for opponents of gambling.

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Houston is falling down the rankings

Tigers pound Odorizzi, Astros with homers as Houston drops fourth in a row

The Astros have not looked great in their last four games. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After watching their hot start of 6-1 cool down to a 6-4 record with three straight losses, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night, looking to do a better job at home against a beatable Tigers team.

Recent games' woes would continue, though, with Houston's pitching getting blasted by the opposing offense and their own bats primarily quiet.

Final Score: Tigers 8, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-5, tied for second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Matthew Boyd (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (0-1)

Astros score first, then Tigers unload on Odorizzi

Houston looked to have something brewing in the bottom of the second, with three singles in the first four batters of the inning, the third an RBI-single by Myles Straw to put the Astros in front 1-0. However, Matthew Boyd would limit the damage, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.

After two easy innings for Jake Odorizzi in his regular-season debut for his new team, he would allow a game-tying solo homer to Akil Baddoo, his fourth of the year, in the top of the third. Detroit struck again in the top of the fourth, getting a leadoff double to set up a two-run go-ahead home run to jump ahead 3-1.

They didn't stop there, getting another two-run bomb later in the same inning; a frame that would take Odorizzi 31 pitches to get only one out before Houston would bring in Bryan Abreu to get the last two outs. Odorizzi's final line in his debut: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 0 BB, 4 K, 80 P.

Detroit continues home run parade, Houston loses fourth in a row

Abreu would hope to do what Luis Garcia did the night before, eat up as many innings as possible after a poor outing from Houston's starter. The Tigers would get yet another two-run homer, though, in the top of the fifth, extending their lead to 7-1, with all seven runs coming over a three-inning span. For good measure, they'd knock one more out with two outs in the top of the ninth, making it 8-1.

As far as Houston at the plate, other than their string of hits to bring in a run earlier in the second, they were getting nothing done against Boyd, who would go six and two-thirds innings. Detroit's bullpen would finish things off, despite an all-too-late sac fly by the Astros in the bottom of the ninth, with Houston dropping their fourth-straight game and continuing to lose ground in the division.

Up Next: The finale of this three-game set with Detroit will be an hour earlier on Wednesday, getting underway at 6:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will try to maintain his perfect record and improve upon his two five-inning one-run starts for the Astros, going opposite of Michael Fulmer (0-0, 2.57 ERA) for the Tigers.

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