PRESS RELEASE

 AUSTIN (May 01, 2014) – Texas Horse Organizations for Racing, Showing and Eventing (Texas HORSE) has partnered with the Association of Texas Soil & Water Conservation Districts (ATSWCD), Texas Wildlife Association, and Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board to highlight the important connection between voluntary land stewardship and sustaining water availability. The statewide campaign, “Land Stewardship: Providing Water for Texans,” is the theme of this year’s Soil & Water Stewardship Week, which is held April 27-May 4.

“This campaign aims to bring more awareness and support to voluntary land stewardship, because the way we manage our resources on private lands directly impacts the water resources available for public consumption,” said Jacquelyn Rich, DVM. “Texas HORSE is proud to partner with ATSWCD to bring more support to voluntary land stewardship.”

Effective land stewardship increases the ability of open land to absorb rainfall, replenish aquifers, and ensure that water drains slowly and steadily into springs, streams, rivers and lakes – reducing run-off and helping to prevent flooding. Voluntary stewardship practices include things such as prescribed grazing management by ranchers, the use of cover crops by farmers, wildlife habitat enhancement, and the targeted removal of invasive brush species.

“Voluntary land stewardship is an efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable way to ‘create’ more water for homes, businesses, recreation, agriculture, and wildlife,” said Johnny Ussery, chair of the stewardship committee for the ATSWCD.

Soil and water conservation performed in urban areas can also help supplement land stewardship efforts in rural ones.

“Urban Texans can become involved by practicing effective land stewardship at home, and in their neighborhoods, schools, and businesses,” Ussery said. “Small efforts, such as using plants in our home landscaping that require little water, can add up to major water conservation when practiced by millions of people across the state.”

Partnering organizations in the “Land Stewardship: Providing Water for Texans” public awareness campaign include Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy of Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife’s Texas Water Resources Institute, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Texas Department of Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Texas Coalition Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Texas Association of Dairymen, South Texans’ Property Rights Association, Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, South Texas Cotton and Grain Association, Texas Forestry Association, Texas HORSE, Texas Deer Association, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., Texas Poultry Federation, Texas Corn Producers, Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association, Taking Care of Texas, Trinity Waters, Texas Pork Producers, and Quail Coalition.

For more information on “Land Stewardship: Providing Water for Texans,” please visit

www.tsswcb.texas.gov.

 

Texas H.O.R.S.E. – Horse Organizations for Racing, Showing and Eventing comprises the largest group of horse organizations in Texas united to introduce and pass legislation to help Texas regain its leadership position within the horse industry.

 

www.texashorseweb.com

 

 | Categories: Breaking News, News, Uncategorized |

By Karen Brooks Harper
kbrooks@dallasnews.com
3:21 pm on April 2, 2013 | Permalink

A Texas group pushing for a statewide referendum on expanding gambling in the Lone Star State could not agree more with a recent report that Oklahoma gaming would suffer if it were to pass.

Why? Because then all those dollars would stay in Texas.

In fact, a new study released today by the group Let Texans Decide shows that Texans are responsible for some $2.96 billion in gambling revenues to Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana each year – 38.6 percent of their collective gambling revenues – money they say should stay in Texas.

That number climbs to $4.37 billion per year when you throw in food, lodging and other expenditures Texans fork over when visiting the other states to gamble.

The study was done by TXP, a 25-year-old Texas-based economic group.

“Texas is hemorrhaging money and our horse industry is under assault while tracks in other states with expanded gaming offer more lucrative purses,” said John T. Montford, chairman of Let Texans Decide. “We offer a simple proposition: let Texans decide if they want to keep their dollars in Texas to the benefit of our state.”

In the DMN post about Oklahoma, economist Alan Meister warned that while Oklahoma is the No. 3 gambling state in the nation, that’s not necessarily a permanent position if Texas were to, say, start allowing casinos. Read that post here.

“If casinos were ever allowed in Texas it could be very bad for some Oklahoma tribes,” Meister said. Oklahoma’s WinStar World Casino has the one of the largest gambling floors in the world, owned by the Chickasaw Nation, which incidentally also would benefit from the legislation pushed by LTD because they own Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.

But that’s exactly the type of information that should convince lawmakers to pass a package of legislation designed to let voters in Texas decide whether to allow more gaming at racetracks.

Those bills are:

  • SJR 64 by Senator John Carona, R-Dallas, would expand gaming at existing dog and horse tracks, and allow for the creation of a limited number of destination, resort casinos.
  •  SJR 36 by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would allow dog and horse tracks to add slot machines.
  • HJR 121 by Representative Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, also would allows slots at existing tracks.
 | Categories: Archive Articles, News |
April 1, 2013

‘Retama Park to the Capitol’ to lobby Texas legislators for video slot machines at horse tracks

Author: Mariza Mendoza, Reporter, mzmendoza@ksat.com

SAN ANTONIO – A bus full of people is heading to Austin on Tuesday morning to support horse racing and increased gambling opportunities in Texas.

The group is called ‘Retama Park to the Capitol’. Lobbying legislators for video lottery machines, also known as slots at the horse tracks, will be on the group’s agenda.

Some people think it’s a great idea if gambling profits go to good use.

“It would be great if it goes toward education and help buy books and maybe pay for teachers,” said Don Nelson, who is from Maryland.

“The kids need a lot of help. A lot of these programs, music programs, they’re cutting them and they don’t know how good it’s benefitting the kids,” said San Antonian Patricia Bass.

Others believe legalizing video gambling would just do more harm than good.

“There’s lots of venues where you can throw your money away. One more venue to throw your money away, I don’t think we need that,” said Jay Gitter.

“I find it boring and not worth throwing your money at and losing,” said Ray George. “I don’t think it would help the state.”

Retama Park Race Track recently went into the hands of a casino company on the gamble that legislation of this type will pass this year.

By Tim Eaton -American-Statesman Staff
Posted: 7:34 p.m. Friday, March 15, 2013

One of the groups that had been pushing for full casino gambling changed its strategy late in the game and is now asking lawmakers to approve a simpler measure to allow slot machines at racetracks.

Let Texans Decide, a pro-gambling organization that is fronted by former state Sen. John Montford, was aligned at the beginning of the 2013 legislative session with big casino interests in a call for full-scale casino gambling in Texas, whether at horse and dog tracks or at yet-to-be-built destination resort casinos.

But as the session progressed, the chances of passing a measure for casino gambling appeared to grow slimmer. And now, Montford’s group, which advocated legislation in 2011 to permit slot machines at tracks, has returned to its old way of thinking.

“This was the position we originally took,” Montford said. “I do believe that this is a reasonable approach.”

The goal has always been the same: to get a gambling-related bill through the Legislature and have the matter put in front of the voters of Texas, the former senator said.

Expanding gambling in Texas — whether slots at tracks or full-blown destination casinos — requires clearing a high hurdle. Two-thirds of the Legislature must vote for the concept, and then voters across the state would have to approve a change to the state constitution.

With an apparent lack of appetite for casino gambling at the moment, Montford’s group was left to advocate existing bills that would allow video lottery terminals, basically slots machines, at racetracks around the state. (The measure also says Indian tribes are not prohibited from providing games of chance on certain Indian lands.)

The measures now backed by Montford’s group have been supported already by other racetracks that are not part of Let Texans Decide.

While it is always difficult to gain approval for gambling legislation from the Texas Legislature, some factors at play now could help, Montford said.

For one, there is growing support among Republicans in the House for slot machines at racetracks, he said. Recently, John Kuempel of Seguin and Rep. Ralph Sheffield of Temple signed on to a slot bill by Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo. Montford said he was encouraged that more members are willing to allow constituents to vote on a gambling initiative.

Montford is also happy that a slots-at-tracks measure by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, where more senators could hear the testimony.

To many political observers, last session, with its $27 billion budget shortfall, seemed to offer the best chance in years to pass gambling legislation. The promise of adding billions of dollars to the state tax rolls gave gambling interests hope, but by the end of the session, it was clear that the bills would not go anywhere.

This session, a much rosier budgetary situation (thanks to expanded oil and gas revenue) has left a lot of gambling proponents — other than Montford — less than optimistic about passing a bill.

The other players in the game, notably the big Las Vegas casino companies, might be quiet now, but that doesn’t mean they have lost hope in the long run.

Some gambling proponents could see an opportunity if there is a special legislative session, as expected, focusing on financing public schools.

If lawmakers are scrambling in a special session for new money to comply with an expected court order to put more money into education, then casinos are “more optimistic for serious consideration,” said John Pitts, a lobbyist for several large casino interests.

But there will always be opposition.

Rob Kohler, consultant and lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of Texas Baptists, said the Montford group has a real problem on its hands now, and switching its message won’t help.

“It doesn’t improve the chances of any piece of legislation passing,” Kohler said.

 | Categories: News |

Republicans are signing onto bills they previously opposed.

WOAI Local News – Monday, March 11, 2013

Several casino gambling measures will come before Texas House committees this week, and supporters say there is a growing sentiment that the voters, and not the Legislature, should  make the final decision on the question of expanding gambling, 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board has learned.

“What everybody, especially Republicans, are becoming more comfortable with it, let’s let the voters decide,” State Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) told 1200 WOAI news.

Raymond, who is backing several bills to expand gambling in the state, says he has never seen this type of sentiment among Republican lawmakers.

Gambling measures have stalled for years, never getting out of committees, let alone before the people for a vote.  But several factors are credited for changing attitudes toward casinos.

One is the active work of former State Sen. and Texas Tech University System Chancellor John Montford, one of the most respected former lawmakers, and a prominent conservative.  Montford heads Let Texans Decide, a non partisan group which is lobbying lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Another is a continuing drumbeat of reports about the success of gambling in neighboring states.  Oklahoma just last month announced that casinos in the Sooner State raked in $3.48 billion in revenue in 2011, up 7.7% over 2010.  A large percentage of people playing casinos in Oklahoma and in Louisiana are from Texas.

“Every Legislator is convinced that we are losing $3 billion to $4 billion a year to surrounding states,” Raymond said.

The new reports may be breaking down a major argument of casino opponents.  For years they have questioned figures showing Texans spending billions in states like Louisiana and Nevada, and pointing out the sluggish economies of those states, Nevada continues to have the highest unemployment rate and the highest percentage of homes in foreclosure of any state in the USA.

Let Texans Decide says approving casino gambling in Texas would lead to the immediate creation of some 75,000 new jobs, and would mean an $8.5 billion boost to the state’s economy.

They also point out that the Texas pari-mutuel racing industry is fading, because tracks in neighboring states also provide casinos and other gambling along with the ponies.

“I certainly believe there is two thirds support in the House and the Senate to take it to the voters,” Raymond said.  “I haven’t really seen that before.”

Social conservatives continue to oppose expanding the footprint of casinos in Texas, claiming that the ‘hidden cost’ of broken families, problem gambling, and crime would far outweigh the benefits.

Some of the bills currently up for consideration would simply allow existing pari-mutuel tracks to establish ‘no live dealer’ video poker and slot machines.  Some would legalize the devices known as ‘Eight Liners.’  But some bills, like the one sponsored by State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston would allow the establishment of full blown Vegas-style report casinos in San Antonio and other major cities, as well as on Galveston and South Padre Island.  These would be major facilities, with a $400 million minimum investment.  Just the application fee to obtain one of these casino licenses would be $50 million.

The bill would also establish a Texas Gaming Commission to regular the casinos.

All of the bills require that Texans be allowed to vote on the issue.  The major casino bills, like the one sponsored by Ellis, go even further, requiring a general statewide Constitutional Amendment election to allow casinos generally, and then requiring that voters of the city or county where a casino would be located vote on the proposal on the table.

As a Constitutional Amendment, Gov. Perry’s support would not be necessary.

 | Categories: News |

The Kaw Nation is planning to open a totally smoke-free casino this spring at its tribal headquarters in Kaw City as the state’s Indian gaming industry continues to expand. Oklahoma Indian gaming produced nearly $3.48 billion in revenues in 2011 — a 7.7 percent increase over the previous year.

By Randy Ellis | Published: February 27, 2013- NEWSOK

Oklahoma Indian gaming produced nearly $3.48 billion in revenues in 2011 — a 7.7 percent increase over the previous year’s total of $3.23 billion, according to a report released early Wednesday by a California economist.Oklahoma’s 2011 Indian gaming revenue growth rate was more than double the 3.4 percent national Indian gaming growth rate, according to the 2013 edition of Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry Report by economist Alan Meister, of Nathan Associates Inc.

Nationally, Indian gaming generated about $27.43 billion in 2011, Meister reported.

Oklahoma tribes also generated about $493.4 million in nongaming revenue from patron expenditures on food, beverages, lodging, shopping and entertainment at gaming facilities in 2011, Meister said. That was a 7.9 percent increase over the previous year.

Casino City is just now reporting revenue data for 2011 because of the time required to gather, analyze and publish the report.

Kaw Nation casino

The report did include more up-to-date information on recent and planned expansions, including the Kaw Nation’s plans this spring to open a 100 percent nonsmoking casino in Kaw City, about 15 miles northeast of Ponca City.

Pam Shaw, general manager of casinos for the Kaw Nation, said several tribes have tried nonsmoking sections of casinos, but as far as she knows, this will be the first and only totally smoke-free casino in the state.

Shaw said people always say nonsmoking casinos won’t make money but said she has received a lot of positive comments since the tribe revealed its plans.

“I think it’s going to be good,” she said.

The Kaw Nation hopes to open the casino by the first week of April. It plans to start small with 78 electronic games, Shaw said.

If it does well, perhaps it will become a trend, she said.

Compact fee collection fell in 2011, rose in 2012

Nationwide, six large casinos opened in 2011, including two in Oklahoma — the Thunderbird Casino-Shawnee operated by the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, with 254 machines, and the Golden Eagle Casino in Apache operated by the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, with 240 machines, Meister reported.

While Oklahoma Indian gaming revenues increased 7.7 percent in 2011, the amount of fees the state received from tribal compact fees actually decreased from $122.7 million in calendar year 2010 to $121.7 million in 2011, state officials said.

Casino City’s report provided an explanation for the decrease, noting that Oklahoma tribes decreased the number of table games in their casinos in 2011 and decreased the percentage of Class III games, while increasing the percentage of Class II games.

Oklahoma Indian tribes only pay fees to the state for the operation of Class III games — Las Vegas-style electronic games — and nonhouse-banked table games, like poker.

Tribes don’t have to pay the state to operate Class I games, which include social games for nominal prizes. Nor do they have to pay to operate Class II games, which include bingo and similar games.

Some of the Class II games are played on electronic devices and are similar, in some respects, to Class III electronic games.

The number of table games in Oklahoma Indian casinos dropped from 813 in 2010 to 753 in 2011, a decrease of 7.4 percent.

The report noted that Oklahoma tribes steadily increased their percentages of Class III games from 2005 through 2008, while the National Indian Gaming Commission introduced stricter limitations on Class II games that would have made them less similar to Las Vegas-style games.

The percentage of Class III games rose from 10 percent in 2005 to 66 percent in 2008.

However, the Commission withdrew the stricter limitations of Class II games in 2008, and the percentage of Class III games has steadily declined since then, dropping to 60 percent in 2011.

Tribes did pay more to the state in 2012, however. Compact fees to the state rose to nearly $127.8 million that year, an increase of 5 percent. A state gaming oversight official attributed the increase to new casinos opening with more total games, rather than a shift to a higher percentage of Class III games.

Casinos support jobs

At the end of 2011, Oklahoma had 115 Indian gaming facilities that were being operated by 33 tribes. Those facilities housed 63,536 gaming machines and 753 table games.

Nationally, 242 American Indian tribes operated more than 341,000 gaming machines and 7,700 table games. The games were in 460 facilities located in 28 states in 2011, the report states.

Indian casinos supported about 339,000 jobs and $12.3 billion in wages, and were responsible for about $1.4 billion in payments to nontribal governments.

 | Categories: News |

By STEPHEN SINGER AP Business Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. February 27, 2013 (AP)

Indian casinos brushed off weak consumer spending in a sluggish U.S. economic recovery to post a modest increase in revenue in 2011, an industry study reported Wednesday.

Not only did revenue rise 3 percent, to $27.4 billion, but Indian casinos are holding on to their share of total casino gambling revenue, competing closely with commercial casinos, according to the report, “Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry Report.”

The revenue increase is the second in as many years following a first-ever drop in Indian casino revenue in 2009 as the worst recession in decades took its toll on consumer spending. The back-to-back increases in revenue are encouraging, the report said.

“The question is how much further can Indian gaming grow?” author Alan Meister said.

Indian gambling was slowing before the start of the recession in late 2007 due to legislation, regulations and court decisions that restricted the types of games offered by Indian casinos, the number of states where gambling is permitted and other limits, he said.

The outlook for Indian gambling now appears healthy because the economy is expected to continue improving, restoring consumer spending, Meister said. In addition, many tribes are upgrading, expanding and replacing casinos.

Indian-run casinos such as those in Alabama and Nebraska, he said, enjoy the advantage of being closer to consumers than many commercial casinos. “They’re a good alternative to Vegas that’s closer to home,” he said.

But the long-term outlook for Indian gambling is uncertain, Meister said. Potential threats include continuing legal challenges — such as a land dispute court case in Michigan that Meister said increases the likelihood of other legal challenges to gambling projects — and state regulations that restrict Indian casinos and limit expansion. Indian casinos face “a lot more” restrictions than their commercial counterparts, he said.

“That, in some ways, holds back Indian gaming from what it could potentially be,” Meister said.

Other potential challenges include increasingly saturated markets, rising competition and Internet gambling.

Indian gambling generated about 43 percent of U.S. casino gambling revenue in 2011, the report said. Revenue at commercial casinos was 45 percent and revenue from racinos — casinos that operate at race tracks — accounted for the remaining 12 percent. That’s unchanged from 2010, but represents a huge gain from the Indian casino share of less than 20 percent in 1993.

Both Indian and commercial casinos could lose business to racinos, he said. State approval of gambling is easier at race tracks where betting already occurs than establishing new casinos, Meister said.

Revenue growth varied from as much as 26 percent in Alabama to minus 3 percent in New York. After Alabama, the fastest-growing states were Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Following New York, the steepest decline in revenue was in Oregon, North Dakota, Connecticut and Idaho.

Revenue at Indian casinos continued to be concentrated in certain states. California generated more revenue at Indian casinos than did any other state, producing $6.9 billion in 2011. Casinos in California accounted for more than 25 percent of Indian casino gambling revenue nationwide.

The top five states — Washington, Florida, Connecticut, California and Oklahoma — accounted for about 61 percent of total gambling revenue. The top 10 states, which include Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York, account for 86 percent of total Indian casino revenue.

Ironically, the weak economy has helped spur casino growth among states seeking more revenue, Meister said.

 | Categories: News |

Survey finds 82% of Texans support gaming referendum, including 78% of Republican primary voters

Austin – A Wilson Perkins Allen opinion survey released today by “Let Texans Decide” shows voters support a constitutional amendment election on expanded gaming by overwhelming numbers. 82 percent of respondents indicated support for a ballot initiative on expanded gaming, with 62 percent – five of every eight survey respondents – indicating strong support for a constitutional amendment on gaming. In addition, Wilson Perkins Allen performed an over-sample of 511 Republican primary voters and found 78 percent of Republicans support placing expanded gaming on the ballot.

“Texans of every political persuasion, across all economic sectors and demographics, agree that voters should decide on the expansion of gaming in Texas,” said former State Senator John T. Montford, chairman of Let Texans Decide. “Texans are smart enough to figure this issue out on their own, and should have the freedom to do so.”

The survey of 1,001 registered voters, conducted January 27-30, posed the question:

“Regardless of your views on gambling, would you support or oppose allowing Texas voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to allow the expansion of gaming in Texas?”

Among a representative sample of general election voters, 82 percent said they would support a voter referendum on gaming, with only 15 percent expressing opposition. Among Republican primary voters sampled, 78 percent indicated support and 20 percent indicated opposition.

“This is a myth-busting survey that shows Republican voters believe Texans should have the freedom to decide how they spend their entertainment dollars,” said LTD spokesman Eric Bearse. “Texans are already gaming. The issue is whether we will continue to allow out-of-state interests to poach $2.5 billion from our pockets each year.”

75 percent of survey respondents – and 65 percent of Republican respondents – agreed with the statement:

“Texans lose billions of dollars to out of state casinos, and are paying for the public schools and highways in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Texas could use that money to improve our own services.”

76 percent of respondents said they have gambled, including 70 percent of Republican primary voters. Two-thirds of Republican respondents and the total sample support, “adding additional law enforcement to crack down on illegal gambling operations that currently exist in Texas.”

“A clear majority of Texans support a vote on legal gaming, and shutting down unlicensed and illegal gaming operations around the state,” said Bearse. “Texans are the freest people on earth, and they are tired of having to sneak across the border to enjoy casino-style gaming. It is time to let Texans decide this issue once and for all.”

Survey data is available at www.lettexansdecide.com. Let Texans Decide is a growing organization composed of race track and casino interests, and supported by dozens of chambers of commerce and business leaders, in addition to various locally elected officials. The mission of the organization is to put expanded gaming to a vote during a constitutional amendment election.

 | Categories: News |

By Jim Witt

jwitt@star-telegram.com

With the Legislature in session, the question of legalizing casino gambling returned like clockwork.

With the lottery, bingo and betting on the horses and dogs all legal, why doesn’t Texas allow casinos or at least slot machines? After all, supporters say, look at all the money flowing out of state to our neighbors in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana? We’re building their roads and schools for them.

Do a quick license plate check at WinStar near Gainesville on the Oklahoma border. It’s the second-biggest casino in North America, and you’ll find it’s 90 percent Texan (even the workers). The same goes for Shreveport (except for the workers).

Nobody enjoys a casino more than I do; my vacations usually involve a visit to a casino at some point. A few hours at a blackjack table or the slots are entertainment to me.

During the 30 years I’ve been visiting casinos, I figure I’m at least a little bit ahead. My wife and I have won several jackpots ranging from $1,500 to $10,000.

I’m an Elvis fan and once won $2,500 playing quarters at an Elvis-themed slot machine in Biloxi, Miss.

So you’d think I’d be on the side of legalizing casinos in Texas.

But I’m not.

It’s not that I fear having a casino nearby will be too tempting, and that I’ll go more often. It’s just that I look forward to doing it a few times a year, and having it too close will make it less special.

I’m a golfer, too, and it’s kind of the way I feel about that. When I retire, being able to play golf any time I want will make it less fun. Part of the enjoyment of golf is looking forward to it. And very few casinos other than “destination” ones in places like Las Vegas or the Bahamas are fun. They are usually pretty depressing. If you’ve been to Shreveport, you know it’s pretty much like Atlantic City, only without the ocean. Shreveport’s casinos haven’t attracted other development and have ruined business for other restaurants and entertainment venues in the city because they can’t compete. The casinos can use artificially low prices at their nongambling attractions because they make it up at the tables and slot machines.

I do believe, however, that the issue of casino gambling should be put before Texas voters, like the lottery and horse-racing bills were. But legalizing casino gambling in Texas is a high fence to jump, and with the economy turning around, I don’t see it happening. It takes voters approving a constitutional amendment, but first, two-thirds of the Legislature has to agree to put something on the ballot. A majority in the Senate and House will not take that chance absent some special reason that I don’t see right now.

As for casino supporters who point to all the money from Texas gamblers going to other states, wouldn’t that same argument apply to marijuana? After all, Colorado just legalized the consumption of pot. All our Texas smokers are going to be traveling up there pretty soon to spend their money!

Gamblers spent $33 billion in U.S. casinos last year, while estimates are that if marijuana were taxed it would raise $31 billion. You’ve got to figure legalizing marijuana here would raise as much for the state as legalizing casinos, don’t you?

Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7704

Twitter: @jimelvis

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/02/02/4595757/i-like-casino-gambling-but-not.html#storylink=cpy
 | Categories: News |

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

ALONG THE RED RIVER — Nona Dean has a weekly ritual.

She and her husband leave their Denton home, cross the Red River and head to WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, ready to take their chances on slot machines.

“We just do it for fun,” she said. “We don’t do anything else [for entertainment]. This is our fun.”

But if she had the chance to gamble at a casino in Texas, where tax dollars could go to funding state needs such as education, she’d do it in a heartbeat, she said.

“Our money would stay in Texas,” she said.

She and many other Texans drive to neighboring states — Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico — and spend billions of dollars a year playing machines and tables and dabbling in off-track betting.

State lawmakers have a proposal on the table to consider allowing casinos in Texas and keep those gamblers, and that money, in the state.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed a bill to let Texans vote on allowing a limited number of legal gambling sites in Texas — slot machines at horse and greyhound racetracks, and Las Vegas-style casinos in urban areas, on Indian tribal land and in tourist destinations on islands in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Clearly we need the money,” Ellis has said. “The people deserve the right to choose whether they want to move forward with an option to bring back the jobs and money to Texas we are giving away to other states.

“If the Legislature will give the people of Texas a chance to vote, clearly the people of Texas are ready for it.”

But like similar proposals in past legislative sessions, the bill to make casino gambling legal in Texas may not have the odds in its favor.

Gambling opponents have long argued that casinos won’t generate the long-term revenue lawmakers hope for. They fear that even if limited, the number of casinos allowed would quickly grow. And they worry that the bulk of the revenue generated at casinos would come from local residents who can least afford it — not from out-of-town tourists.

“There are folks walking around the Capitol saying, ‘Let folks decide,’” said Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Christian Life Commission, which is part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “That’s the oldest trick around here. Folks do decide — in the primary and general elections.

“If it was so popular and everybody wanted it in Texas, people would be running on that issue,” he said. “But they aren’t.”

Economic impact

Let Texans Decide, which supports casinos in Texas, was formed last year to encourage lawmakers to put the issue before Texas voters. Organizers recruited former state Sen. John Montford, a Democrat who went on to be chancellor of the Texas Tech University System and work for companies including General Motors and Southwestern Bell, to help.

“Texas is hemorrhaging money in the billions to our neighboring states,” said Montford, a spokesman for the group. “We are surrounded.”

Ellis’ bill, he said, is a starting point.

The goal, Montford said, is to let the bill evolve and develop as lawmakers work together to create a proposal the conservative 2013 Legislature can approve and put before voters. Especially as studies report that 90 percent of the customers at casinos on the Texas-Oklahoma border are Texans.

“We think the people of Texas are smart enough and ready to decide this issue,” he said.

According to the group:

Adding casinos to racetracks in Texas could create 75,000 jobs, show $8.5 billion in statewide economic growth and benefit 40 industries including agriculture, construction and tourism.

Casinos at Texas racetracks could generate $1 billion in taxes each year.

Texans already spend more than $2.5 billion a year at casinos in states near Texas.

Dozens of chambers of commerce, including Arlington’s, and other groups have thrown their support behind giving voters a chance to decide whether to bring casinos to this state.

The group has started a petition that has drawn more than 5,300 signatures to encourage lawmakers to let Texans vote on the issue.

Montford said there’s a reason a casino bill hasn’t passed before, despite bills being filed nearly every session for decades.

“The out-of-state interests have put so much money in Texas politics that they have been able to stop it,” he said. “They will fight it. They don’t want anything to change in Texas because the people of Texas are funding a whole lot in Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

“My hat’s off to them,” he said. “They are outsmarting us. And they will put a whole bunch of money into this to make sure nothing changes.”

Opposition

Kohler has been meeting with newly elected members of the Legislature recently, hoping to talk to them about what he sees as perils of expanding gambling in Texas.

Supporters used the same arguments — generally, a large economic windfall for Texas — to persuade legislators to approve the Texas lottery and pari-mutuel wagering. But those opportunities haven’t been enough for gambling supporters, he said, and they want more.

“This is not about economic development,” Kohler said. “It’s sold as that, but it’s not. We’ve been tricked before with pari-mutuel wagering and the lottery.”

Kohler said that casinos in Texas simply won’t generate the taxes projected by supporters and that the majority of money will come from people living near a casino. And if gambling is expanded in Texas, he said, it will quickly grow because of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

But he said he doesn’t expect the proposal to gain any traction.

“At the end of the day, every two years, we … see special-interest folks trying to make this an issue,” he said. “There’s not a will there — not in the House and not in the Senate.”

Others oppose the move as well.

Amid calls for new state revenue, “some big spenders just happen to have a ready-made solution, a magic moneymaking elixir: expanded gambling. And some conservatives are foolishly lapping it up,” Michael Quinn Sullivan, president and CEO of Empower Texans, an Austin-based conservative group, said last year. “Let’s be clear: Texans are not under-taxed; our problem is that tax dollars are often poorly spent.

“The emphasis in 2013 must rest on fixing past budget gimmicks, weeding out inefficient and ineffective programs, and examining how services are provided,” he said. “Today, Texans are being sold on the expansion of gambling as a way to bring new revenues into state coffers. Don’t be fooled.”

The Republican Party of Texas weighed in on the issue last year, including a plank in its platform that objects to any new gambling in the state.

“We oppose the expansion of legalized gambling and encourage the repeal of the Texas State lottery,” the platform states. “We oppose dedicating any government revenue from gambling to create or expand any government program.”

The specifics

As written, Ellis’ bill calls for profits above and beyond what it would take to operate a new Texas Gaming Commission to help lower property taxes.

That commission would oversee issuing no more than eight licenses for slot machines to horse and greyhound racetracks, no more than six licenses for casinos in urban areas and no more than two licenses for casinos on islands in the Gulf. The commission could also let Indian tribes recognized by the U.S. government operate slot machines or casino gambling on their land in Texas.

Texas has 13 racetracks. The only one in the Metroplex is Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.

The others stretch from Amarillo to Fredericksburg to Houston, Corpus Christi and locations in the Valley. Also, the state has three federally recognized Indian tribes: the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in Livingston; the Tigua Indians, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, in El Paso; and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in Eagle Pass, according to Let Texans Decide.

“I want gaming like they have in Las Vegas where they have the pretty people come in and spend their money,” Ellis has said.

“I want those folks who can afford the high-dollar nipping and tucking and spend millions of dollars on clothes and hotel rooms.

“I want all those things that come with casino gaming.”

Ellis’ bill — Senate Joint Resolution 6 — has yet to be referred to a Senate committee for revenue.

Oklahoma gambling

Years ago, many North Texans would drive to Shreveport to take their chances at casinos.

But as casinos in Oklahoma have been built in recent years, many North Texans have headed there, preferring the shorter drive.

Kathy Dececio of Azle heads to WinStar, off Interstate 35 in Thackerville, which has a 500,000-square-foot gaming floor with eight themed gaming plazas, table games, bingo, keno and off-track betting.

Dececio and her husband, Frank, go to the casino once every couple of months and say they’d gladly give their business to casinos in Texas — if that ever became an option.

“We certainly wouldn’t come here so much,” she said.

WinStar is owned by the Chickasaw Nation, which also owns other casinos along I-35 in Oklahoma as well as businesses including smoke shops, bingo halls, truck stations, radio stations — and Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.

It isn’t the only group with ties to casinos to put roots down in Texas.

Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment has been given the go-ahead to buy into the racing interest at the Retama Park racetrack in San Antonio. And Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming plays a key role in running the Sam Houston Race Park in Houston and the Valley Race Park in Harlingen, as it will at a racetrack planned in Laredo.

WinStar has grown through the years, adding more square footage to its casino, not to mention a spa, shops, an inn, a 27-hole golf course, a variety of eateries and a 2,500-seat Global Events Center, which has recently presented performers including Matchbox 20 and Diana Ross.

When looking at ongoing expansion and construction at the casino recently, Dean, of Denton, just smiled.

“Texans are building this,” she said with a shrug.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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