But he doesn't have the legal authority to force the Lottery to stop
Gov. Greg Abbott has told Texas lottery officials to stop efforts to explore the expansion of sports betting lottery games and other types of gambling that are prohibited under state law.
The Dallas Morning News reports Abbott told Texas Lottery Commission Chairman J. Winston Krause in a letter Monday that he does not want the agency to continue its exploration of the games that other states have launched. Abbott wrote that the executive director and staff should be notified that any request to travel to gather information about gaming opportunities should be denied. (See Abbott's letter to Krause in Related Links below.)
Such an expansion would require approval of the Legislature, where efforts failed during the 2015 session. Texas currently has lottery drawings, such as Powerball and Lotto Texas, and scratch-off tickets.
The instructions from the governor come after letters obtained by the newspaper between the commission executive director Gary Grief and his Delaware counterpart Vernon Kirk indicate the agency's interest in the expansion of Internet betting and other games. Griek thanked Kirk for the hospitality shown when the director and his staff visited Delaware to learn about that state's operations in October.
Robert Rivera, a member of the Texas Lottery Commission and the Arlington City Council, said the five-member panel that oversees the agency did not direct Grief or the staff to pursue expanding the state's gaming portfolio and that he would ask for more details information about the exploration at the commissioners' meeting next week.
Rivera said, "The Lottery Commission has no interest in expanding what we have in front of us," he said.
Texas Lottery Commission spokeswoman Kelly Cripe said in an email on Monday that "We will adhere to what has been expressed in the Governor's letter."
Despite Cripe's statement, the Texas Governor's office does not have the power to coerce the Lottery to take any specific actions, according to an analysis conducted by The Texas Tribune.
The legal powers granted to a Texas governor include the powers of veto, appointment, and persuasion.
The first and second are pretty clear. The governor can veto legislation he or she doesn't like, and the Legislature can override that veto with a supermajority. Governors appoint the members of boards and commissions that oversee the state's executive branch agencies, with the Senate riding shotgun to approve or disapprove of those appointees.
Like any other agency head, the governor attends to his own office work, like ladling out economic development funds, deciding who oversees the divisions of the governor's office and so on. Almost everything else is persuasion.
Gov. Greg Abbott is testing his salesmanship skills this week with the letter asking the Texas Lottery Commission to stop exploring new forms of gambling.
But unlike governors in other states, Texas governors don't have cabinet-style powers: They don't have the ability to enforce their orders in the executive branch.
The governor can demand that an agency do this or that but can't enforce that demand by controlling agency budgets, regulatory powers or even who remains on the payrolls.
Persuasion is the whole bag. A governor can't even fire an appointee without the consent of the Senate.
That's why you hear the political science and government nerds referring to Texas as a "weak-governor" state: The executive branch of government is powerful, but its titular head is not.
The power of the purse is in the state Legislature, which not only writes the state budget but also has control over large mid-course adjustments. Governors can veto all or part of a state budget, but senators and representatives ultimately have more influence on state spending.
"State laws on gaming are to be viewed strictly as prohibitive to any expansion of gambling," Abbott wrote in his letter to the state's lottery commissioners this week. "This statutory framework is properly intentioned to protect our citizens, and I support it wholeheartedly. Please ensure this intent and direction is strictly enforced among the staff of the Texas Lottery Commission."
He didn't give them any orders, exactly — he can't, really — but made it clear he wants them to nix their research project.
That said, persuasion can be a powerful tool. Abbott has a bigger megaphone than anyone else in state government and with it, the ability to frame debates and set agendas.
He's effectively asking the voting public — that small but important fraction of the state's population — to take sides on gambling. He's showing gambling opponents that he's on their side. For what it's worth, he's also diverting attention from the ongoing fight at the Texas Racing Commission over historical racing and whether it would allow more gambling at the state's horse and dog tracks.
As a technical matter, he can't force the Texas Lottery Commission to do anything — or to stop doing anything. But telling everyone loudly what he thinks does force the agency's execs to think things through.
They might prevail in an argument with a governor, but do they really want to start one?