Lege will confront casino gambling in Texas again in 2013

Will Texas see casinos anytime soon?

Ten years ago I would have said that kind of talk is crazy. But during a time when more and more money is needed for the state to piss away, well, let’s just say desperate times call for desperate measures.

Houston Democrat Rodney Ellis has authored Senate Joint Resolution 6, which would propose a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling and slot machines by a limited number of licensed operators and Indian tribes. Video lottery would also be authorized at licensed horse and dog tracks as well as on Indian reservations.

The law would establish a Texas Gaming Commission to oversee the gambling. Eight horse and dog tracks would be allowed a certain number of slot machines. Six licensed “casino-anchored destination attraction development projects” would be authorized in different Texas urban areas. Hmm, sounds like Disney World meets the one-arm bandit! Two Gulf of Mexico island-based casinos could likewise operate on Galveston and Padre Island.

I have as of yet not found a specific revenue estimate all of this might bring although funds generated from such a proposal would specifically help provide property tax relief and money for higher education.

This is not, trying to be trite, the first rodeo for Texas when it comes to attempts at establishing casino gambling. I have covered efforts in both Texas at allowing parimutuel horse racing and in establishing slots at race tracks in Louisiana. I can tell you that trying to establish gaming of any kind in both states is an uphill battle. Yes, some of the opposition is based on moral and religious concerns. But the “do-gooders” aren’t those who sponsor gambling measures should worry about. It’s those in gambling who are the biggest foes.

I remember writing about the first attempt in the mid-1990s to add slot machines to the Delta Downs race track in Vinton, La. Louisiana had and still has limited casino gambling and one of the hotspots was and is Lake Charles, about 30 miles west of the Texas border off Interstate 10. Vinton is closer to Texas than that. Delta Downs is slightly more than two miles from the border, not far off of I-10. Lake Charles has long attracted customers from the Houston area and beyond, so one may only imagine how adding slots just across the Sabine River from Texas might cut into the gambling pie of the multiple Lake Charles-area spots.

The first attempt failed. But try try again and now you have Delta Downs Racetrack Casino. There are slots, off-track betting and horse racing in season. Supply and demand won.

Established casinos in Lake Charles fought like hell to keep casinos from Delta Downs. We’re talking the biggest of the bigs at the time. I think LC now has even more gambling spots after rebuilding from two hurricanes. Texas is surrounded by gambling either in commercial or Indian casinos. One can imagine that the casinos in Bossier City, Lake Charles, and those on the Oklahoma and New Mexico reservations will all have their lobbyists in Austin this spring.

It is a little too early to worry about casino gambling in Texas at this point though. Sen. Ellis only calls for a constitutional amendment. If the gambling interests from out-of-state do not take down SJR 6, then it will be up to Texas voters how such an amendment will go. If I were a betting man, I would not take a bet on whether a law allowing casinos in Texas would pass.

Only time will tell whether the special interests from the gambling industry push lawmakers away from the measure and, if passed, if Texans vote the amendment in come November a year from now. Then, it will likely end up a local-option issue. There is a lot of voting ahead before we see a Harrah’s in the Lone Star State.


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