Gambling in the Lone Star state?

Senator says legislation would create tens of thousands of jobs, provide property tax relief

Posted: April 8, 2013 – 9:30pm  |  Updated: April 9, 2013 – 12:23am
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Riverwind Casino is shown in Oklahoma. Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona suggests bringing gambling to Texas to capture some of the $3 billion a year spent by Texans in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana.

Riverwind Casino is shown in Oklahoma. Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona suggests bringing gambling to Texas to capture some of the $3 billion a year spent by Texans in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana.
By Enrique Rangel


AUSTIN — Saying Texans spend nearly $3 billion a year betting in neighboring states, a senior state senator on Monday outlined a bill that would allow state voters to decide whether some gambling is allowed in Texas.

“Let’s face it, Oklahoma, along with Louisiana and New Mexico, have captured the lucrative Texas market,” Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona said as he outlined his Senate Joint Resolution 64, a constitutional amendment that would let state voters decide whether limited gambling is allowed in the state.

“One casino (in Oklahoma), just across the Texas border, runs 27 bus routes” every day, Carona said.

The money Texans spend gambling in neighboring states “helps pay for their roads, schools and their hospitals,” he said. “It is time we do something about that.”

Moreover, his legislation would create tens of thousands of jobs and provide property tax relief for Texas homeowners because the limited number of casinos, slots at horse and race tracks would result in tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in capital investment and construction and additional tax revenue to fund public education, Carona said. Texas is among 10 states where casino gambling is illegal because it is written in the state’s Constitution.

But in order to let the voters decide on the constitutionality of the issue, SJR 64 must get at least a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

Carona was joined at a news conference by gambling supporters and business leaders from across the state, including former Lubbock state Sen. John T. Montford, the lead spokesman of a statewide effort called “Let Texans Decide.”

“I don’t think we need to stand here and say that we’re mad at New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana but we have to say they’ve outsmarted us,” Montford said. “Ladies and gentlemen we’re surrounded and we are hemorrhaging money in untold amounts to our neighboring states, in particularly we are hemorrhaging money to Oklahoma.”

So, Montford said Let Texans Decide has a simple proposition: Let Texas voters decide at the ballot box whether the state should allow more gambling.

Based on recent polls, the group is convinced that if the Legislature gives the voters the opportunity decide on the issue, a convincing majority would approve the measure.

However, Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Christian Life Commission, which is affiliated with Texas Baptists, a leading gambling opponent, said what Carona, Montford and other supporters of expanded gambling propose is the same failed promise of more revenue and thousands of more jobs for the state.

“If you read the comments they made when they were promoting pari-mutuel wagering (in the 1980s) and the state lottery (in the 1990s), they are almost the same, line by line,” Kohler said. This included the promise that the revenue would help fund public education.

For those reasons, plus the fact that the 83rd Legislature is quite conservative, Texas Baptists are confident Carona’s bill will fail, just as it happened to similar proposals in previous sessions, Kohler predicted.

In the 2011 Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed a similar proposal but the legislation — along with other gambling bills — failed to pass.

This was because conservative Republicans and even some liberal Democrats have long opposed gambling legislation.

The former on grounds that it is not the way for the state to collect revenue and the latter because, in their view, needy Texans often gamble what little they have. And when they lose what little money they have it is their struggling families who get hurt the most.

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