State could win big by expanding gambling.

 Thousands of jobs and billions in dollars could be generated in the Texas economy if gambling at tribal casinos such as the Tiguas’ Speaking Rock Casino and on slot machines at horse and dog racetracks is legalized.

With $9 billion less in the Texas State budget, legislators are having to write the state’s two-year budget for 2010 and 2011. Texans for Economic Development is pushing lawmakers to allow more gaming in Texas to drum up revenue in an attempt to help with the deficit. 

“Texas is exporting most of the benefits we could realize from having gaming,” said John Hockenyos, who wrote the study for Texans for Economic Development, a group of gaming advocates. Hockenyos, president of TXP, an economic policy consulting group, said his study showed that Texas was losing $2.4 billion in revenues to states that allow slot machines and tribal casinos. 

More gamblers would stay local and help boost the Texas economy if given the choice. The enterprise could create 50,000 new jobs and generate nearly $7 billion for the economy. It would also mean more than $900 million in tax revenue, the study shows. In economic times like what we are experiencing, we need to think outside the box and be prepared to do what it takes to keep the Texas economy thriving. 

El Paso lawmakers said they were hopeful the study results, combined with economic conditions, would move lawmakers to consider allowing the Tiguas to reopen Speaking Rock. But other legislators said conservative politics make any expansion of gaming this year unlikely. 

In 2002, the last year Speaking Rock was open, its revenue reached $60 million and employed nearly 800 people, who earned annual average wages of $18,000.

That year, then-Attorney General John Cornyn successfully sued the tribe for violating Texas anti-gambling laws, and the casino was shuttered. This act may have violated the United States’ Federal treaty the Tiguas have with the government providing them sovereign status. Since then, the Tiguas have lobbied state and federal lawmakers to allow them to resume gaming on the reservation.

 

Gambling in Texas

– the multibillion dollar question 

Texas gamblers spent over $1 billion in Louisiana’s casinos in 2007. In fact, Louisiana is a magnet for Texas gamblers, drawing more than 40 percent of the $2.5 billion Texans spend on gambling every year. That is a lot of money flowing out of the Texas budget – and that is the crux of the issue.

 The Texas Gaming Commission estimates passage of casino-style gambling would generate $3 billion to $4.5 billion a year in state and local tax money. The legislative proposal would dedicate $1 billion of that revenue to college grants and $1 billion for highway construction. Proponents say the casinos would support 118,000 jobs directly and thousands more support jobs.

 “Texans are already gaming,” state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, a co-sponsor of the legislation, told the Houston Chronicle. “They’re going to continue to do so. I say let’s regulate it and let’s tax it and let’s use the money to pay for public schools and highways and other needy programs in the great state of Texas.”

 

 Texans Favor Gambling 

Most Texans favor allowing slot machines at race tracks and Indian casinos according to a group that favors expanding gambling in the State. Texans for Economic Development, which released the information, said it shows that in tough economic times voters are motivated by jobs and the State is motivated to increase and stabilize the budget. Gambling would allow both individuals and the State to meet their goals. 

If slot machines were legalized at racetracks and American Indian casinos, the study suggests, Texas could reclaim $1.8 billion in revenue lost to other states, plus $1 billion in related spending. Economic ripple effects would generate an added $4 billion throughout the state, the report said. 

The study projected a statewide economic boost of up to $6 billion and 53,000 new full-time jobs across all sectors of the economy, generating about $1 billion a year in tax revenue. 

“It would help us tremendously,” said Drew Shubeck, president of Lone Star Park. If the Legislature approves a slot machine bill, the park would start a $100 million construction project to build “new and more glamorous facilities” housing 2,500 to 3,500 video lottery terminals, he said. 

Horse-racing interests hope that the potential benefits in tax revenue could help persuade cash-strapped lawmakers who are trying to find ways to fund existing services and possibly new initiatives. The Legislature has $9.1 billion less in available revenue than it did at the start of the 2007 session. 

Gambling proponents are betting the worsening economy will open a door for passage of a gambling bill