Texas gambling supporters ready despite long odds

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Associated Press

Posted on December 27, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 27 at 10:58 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Those who want to expand gambling in Texas say they're more united than they have been with the next legislative session set to begin next month, but they will likely face the same opposition they did before from social conservatives, fiscal responsibility groups and many Republicans.

Previous pushes for more gambling have failed when groups representing different gambling interests have fought each other's proposals, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/W1Pweb ). Bill Miller, a political consultant and lobbyist, told the newspaper that won't be a problem next year because they won't be working against one another.

"They dramatically increase their chances," Miller said.

John Pitts, a lobbyist for Wynn Resorts, said the Las Vegas casinos have not all formally organized, but "the gaming industry appears to be more united than in past sessions."

Texas has a state-run lottery and betting on horse and dog racing.

Gambling supporters argue that by not allowing casinos, Texas loses money because its residents go elsewhere to gamble, including Oklahoma and Louisiana. But Gov. Rick Perry and Republicans in the Legislature have previously opposed expanding gambling. A gambling bill would need two-thirds support in each chamber and a successful statewide referendum.

John Montford, a former state senator now working for the pro-gambling group Let Texans Decide, said he thought it makes sense to try to keep Texas' gamblers in the state.

"We're hemorrhaging money to other states," he said. "Why not regulate it, sanction it and put some money in the treasury?"

Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, said that Louisiana and Las Vegas each have struggling economies, even as they collect money from Texans. He said gambling opens the door to lawmakers awarding licenses to friends and contributors.

"That's not free-market capitalism," Sullivan said.

Miller said the ongoing school funding lawsuit could help if the Legislature is ordered by a judge to provide more education money. More than 600 school districts have sued the state after the Legislature voted in the last session to cut $5.4 billion from public schools and educational grants.

"It's an opportunity," he said. "A golden one, actually."

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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