Latest Updates on Expanding Gambling In Texas



AUSTIN – The push to expand gambling in Texas could be a smoke screen for a move to lease operations of the Texas lottery to a private company.

At least that’s what one leader against expanded gambling believes. Rob Kohler, a Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission consultant, told San Antonio Express News columnist Peggy Fikac recently that he doesn’t think gambling proponents have the votes to get expanded gambling through the Texas Legislature. And, he says, all the talk could just be a way to push a proposal by Gov. Rick Perry to lease the state lottery to private interests. The company that leased the lottery operations would be expected to give Texas a big up-front payment in return for being allowed to run the games.

In 2007 Perry pushed an idea that the state could get $14 billion by leasing the lottery. Now state officials are predicting that the state will have a $18 billion budget shortfall next year. For Kohler that all adds up to a big gamble that the sate shouldn’t take. He predicts that some private interest will now “ride in on a white horse” with badly needed funds if they can just run the Texas lottery. Kohler says it would be “nothing short of the state taking a payday loan.”

In 2008 the Justice Department issued a legal opinion that said states had to keep control over all significant business decisions in a lottery lease but some supporters of the lease idea think there is room to negotiate.



AUSTIN – The Texas Legislature doesn’t meet until January, but budget officials are predicting a $18 billion shortfall in 2011 and already gambling proposals are being discussed as one way to help close the gap.

Despite efforts by leaders to cut state agency budgets, those efforts will only save about $1.7 billion and maybe not even that much as some agencies such as the state prison system ask for exemptions. Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie,
Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, raised the possibility of expanded gambling this week noting the millions of dollars leaving Texas for neighboring states where casino gambling is an option.

Both Gov. Rick Perry and former Houston Mayor Bill White, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, say they are against expanded gambling in Texas. Some expect the budgetary news to help change their minds. In 2004, Perry proposed allowing video lottery terminals, a sort of computerized slot machine, to help fund Texas schools. The proposal failed. White says he is opposed to expanded gambling but wouldn’t promote or oppose legislative efforts to change the Texas Constitution to allow more gambling.


Pitts said legalized casinos could bring in $1 billion in the next two-year budget period and $4 billion annually in the future. “I'm going to look at every revenue enhancer that we can get,” Pitts said, adding that Texans now travel to other states, such as Oklahoma and Louisiana, to gamble. “We need to grab that money.”



Electronic Instant Bingo Back On The Table For Texas Charities

AUSTIN — Bingo interests are ready to go to court so they can take part in the debate over expanding Texas gambling.
Bingo lobbyist Steve Bresnen, who works for the Bingo Interest Group, recently told the Texas Lottery Commission that charitable bingo halls would not be able to compete with casinos or video lottery terminals at racetracks unless they were allowed to install electronic-game technology  for instant bingo games.

Previous efforts by bingo supporters to get electronic instant bingo failed in the legislature.

Under current law, bingo proceeds cannot be spent on lobbying the Legislature and bingo charities are prevented from working for or against a proposed constitutional amendment on the state ballot. Expanding gambling in Texas would require a constitutional amendment. Bingo supporters are preparing to challenge that law in federal court based on a recent Supreme Court ruling that found corporations have a free-speech right to spend money to influence elections.

“We found it ironic that Veterans of Foreign Wars, who fought for these rights, were constrained by statute from using their proceeds from bingo to ... exercise those rights before the Legislature. Consequently, we intend to try to do something about it,” Bresnen told the San Antonio Express News. “These charities provide a significant service to the state of Texas. They provide services to communities that the Legislature either can't or won't fund. And we can't stand idly by and have them run over by a bunch of wealthy track owners or casino owners.”

Bresnen made his remarks to the Texas Lottery Commission, which oversees bingo. Bingo charities net about $36 million a year. Bresnen told commissioners that bingo interests want to establish a fund of at least $5 million “to mount a major media campaign that will allow bingo charities to defend their interests.”  In addition to the lawsuit, the bingo plan includes a statewide voter registration and mobilization campaign targeting bingo players and expanding the number of bingo lobbyists. 


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