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Bringing casinos to Texas would require a state constitutional amendment

While many in Texas think gambling will provide great financial return to the economy, Governor Rick Perry has pledged to veto any casino gambling bills that cross his desk.  Since his office plays no specific role in amending the constitution, the best bet to legalize gambling in Texas is for supporters to go for an amendment to the state constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote from the Legislature and a simple majority vote of the electorate.

Pro gambling advocates are looking forward to this legislative session with Joe Staus as Craddick's replacement as House Speaker.
The first bill introduced this legislative session would legalize slot machines at the state's horse and dog tracks. A second bill would use an end run to legalize poker on the basis that it is a game of skill and not chance, and thus not subject to the language of the gambling ban in the Texas constitution. The third bill would allow for 12 resort-style casinos, slot machines at both race tracks and Texas's three Indian reservations.

 

Texas casinos – The Ellis/Carona bill

Both Eiland and State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, pointed to Gov. Rick Perry’s promise to veto any bill that would expand gambling in Texas as a major roadblock to legalized gambling in Texas.

Casino Bill

The casino proposal introduced Feb. 24 by Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and John Carona, R-Dallas, includes these provisions:

• Twelve “destination resort” casinos. Possible locations include Galveston, South Padre Island, Bexar County, Tarrant County, Travis County, Dallas County and Harris County;

• Slot machines at existing horse and dog racing tracks, such as Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque; and

• Casino gambling at three federally recognized Indian tribal lands.


The Ellis-Carona bill, if passed, would then require approval of a constitutional amendment by two-thirds of lawmakers and state voters.

Backers of the bill estimate at least $3 billion could be added to state coffers. Of those funds, $1 billion would be dedicated to a trust fund for college scholarships, and $1 billion would go for highway construction.
Businessman and former South Padre Island alderman Doyle Wells said he favors legalized gambling.

"The economic benefits would be tremendous," he said. "As for those who throw up moral objections, I would rather be in charge of my own destiny. Good oversight can take care of any problems before they happen."

 

Legislature '09: Gambling advocates gather support amid weaker Texas economy

Influential House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Jim Pitts is co-sponsor of the new legislation to support gambling in Texas.  Pitts, who has sponsored legislation for slot machines at racetracks in the past, said he's convinced this year it's "time to go for the full deal." 

"Poll after poll has shown an overwhelming majority of Texans support legalizing casino gaming," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who is sponsoring the bill along with Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; and Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio. "Texans are already voting with their feet, and going out of state. It's time for our state to reap the significant economic benefits and use that revenue to help Texans."

When colleagues see that the House's top budget writer is sponsoring a casino bill, it may encourage them to give a second thought to the value of this bill and the potential revenue it could bring to the coffers.

The gambling bill would put a referendum before Texas voters to allow up to 12 upscale resort casinos across the state, as well as slot machines at existing horse and greyhound racetracks. It would also permit gambling on the three Indian reservations located within Texas.
It would also allow communities to hold local-option elections to decide whether to permit a casino in their region.

Carona, who opposed casino gambling in Texas for years until he researched the subject believes the benefits are just too massive to be dismissed.  Besides, gaming is already in Texas and we need to regulate it so that we can benefit from the revenue that is currently being lost.

“There is a significant amount of money leaving Texas and ending up in neighboring states’ economies, said Jon Hockenyos, author of the study. “If Texas offers slot machines at racetracks, billions of dollars will stay in the state.”

“Texas is exporting billions of gaming dollars every year to other states. A significant share of this money could easily stay in Texas, stimulating the economy and providing much-needed State revenue.” Hockenyos explained.

68 percent of Texans, according to a poll of 1,000 likely Texas voters funded by the Texas Gaming Association, said they would vote for the constitutional amendment outlined in the gambling bill.

Gambling opponents say Texans can expect the communities around each of the resort casinos to falter.  They warn of increased home evictions, crime, and small local businesses filing for bankruptcy.  They say pawn shops and sexually oriented businesses are likely to move in and local restaurants and entertainment venues will suffer.

On the other side, supporters say Texans are already gambling – on the Internet, in adjacent states, at dog and horse tracks and with lottery tickets. The measure would help Texas retain an estimated $6 billion its residents are spending annually on casinos outside the state while simultaneously drawing tourists from outside the state to spend their recreation dollars.  They also say more than 120,000 jobs in hospitality, retail, and construction will be created