Got a press release in the mail on Monday that claims there is broad support for expanded gambling in Texas – in particular, allowing slot machines at existing race tracks and on Indian reservations. I’ll point you to Texas Insider for a reprint of the release, and to this Google doc that has the poll questions and responses; I also received a statement in response to the poll from Texans Against Gambling, which you can see here. I guess I’m not surprised by this – especially in tough times, expanded gambling will look like an easy way to add to the state’s coffers. I am a little surprised that the poll says that 68% of “conservative Republicans” favor the slots; given Governor Perry’s ceaseless pandering to GOP primary voters, you’d think he’d have been in front of that parade. Maybe this is a prelude to a softening of his position, I don’t know. What I do know is that I will never willingly use the word “racino” in a sentence, no matter how often the gambling industry repeats it. I mean, seriously, you have to draw the line somewhere.
Anyway, I’ve been saying that I expect there to be a push for expanded gambling this session. And now there’s word that a major gambling expansion bill is about to be filed.
Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston and John Carona, R-Dallas, and Reps. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, are planning to file a bill tomorrow that would bring 12 huge destination resort casinos to the Lone Star State.
“We’re talking about very large destination casinos, with hotels and restaurants and other entertainment in addition to gaming, casinos that would bring in a whole new clientele, not just to gaming but people who’ll come just for the hotels or the restaurants,” said a spokesman for Ellis, who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
The bipartisan plan calls for placing seven casinos in urban areas, probably two in Dallas County, two in Harris County and one each in Bexar, Travis and Tarrant counties, according to a source. Two might go to the barrier islands, ie Galveston and South Padre Island. Three more might be awarded based on a showing of economic impact.
An expansion of gambling in Texas would need the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate and the approval of voters. Last year, only one gambling expansion bill left the House committee, only to die on the House floor.
This year’s bill evidently has something for the two casino-less Indian tribes, too. It would allow the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushattas to also (re)open resort casinos on their reservations, a lobbyist who also asked not to be named, said.
This bill apparently doesn’t have a racetrack slot machine provision, so it may wind up being opposed by other proponents of gambling who don’t feel like they’re getting a piece of the action. Note that Rep. Pitts chairs the Appropriations committee, so having him on board is a boost. This ought to be fun to watch, if nothing else.