The conventional wisdom, to which I subscribe, says that the results on this election are bad news for proponents of expanded gambling. One reason for this is that the Republican wave means more socially conservative members. Gambling proponents are doing their best to put a smiley face on their prospects in the new Lege in spite of this.
Jack Pratt, chairman of the Texas Gaming Association and a proponent of casinos, said he is not discouraged by the recent election results.
“I have witnessed the debate over expanded gaming firsthand in at least 16 states and followed it closely in several others. It’s just a fact that many Republican legislators around the country voted for these measures and were an essential part of the majority in those state legislatures that passed expanded gaming legislation,” Pratt said. “A proposal to allow a limited number of destination resort casinos in Texas makes sense on the merits and is very compelling at a time when Texas needs jobs and new sources of nontax revenue.”
Chris Shields, who also works with the Texas Gaming Association, said an overwhelming number of Texas voters support expanded gambling measures and even more support putting the issue to the voters, based on a poll commissioned by the association. And the newly elected candidates know that, he said.
“We think the new members have a very strong connection to the voters right now,” Shields said.
Mike Lavigne, spokesman for Win for Texas, which is supported by track owners and the horse industry, said his group believes an expanded gambling bill can pass in the upcoming session, which will begin in January.
Most of the Legislature’s new blood ran on platforms of no new taxes and less government, Lavigne said. They ran on fiscally conservative values, not on socially conservative ones. To prove his point, he produced a short stack of direct mail pieces from Republican challengers that include tea party-approved tax messages and not a word about abortion or other favorite topics of the socially conservative.
And because increased gambling raises money without raising taxes, these soon-to-be-sworn-in candidates could get behind a gambling measure, Lavigne said.
Sure, if you believe that any of them want to find new revenue sources, which is at best an open question. But there’s a fundamental issue here that the gambling proponents don’t address.
Jason Isaac, the Republican who defeated Rep. Patrick Rose, D-San Marcos, represents hope for gambling proponents.
Isaac said he hasn’t decided how he’d vote on a gambling bill. He’d have to see it first. But he said he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of expanded gambling.
“My concentration is going to be on fiscal matters,” Isaac said, adding that his initial reaction is to be more open to slots at racetracks where gambling already exists rather than casinos.
Isaac said one of his concerns is that gambling could lead to bigger government — something that he and many other newly elected people staunchly oppose.
The position of Paul Workman, another newly elected Central Texas Republican, proves that gambling proponents will have to work for every vote. He said he’ll oppose a gambling measure.
Workman, who defeated Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin , said he enjoys trips to Las Vegas and does not see gambling as evil. But he thinks expanded gambling of any kind in Texas would be a mistake. He might not be opposed to gambling on moral grounds, but he objects to the crime and other social costs associated with it.
“I think it brings more trouble than it solves,” he said. “I think it would add an undue burden to cities and counties.”
What goes unmentioned here is that Rose and Bolton were both gambling supporters. To be more precise, they were recipients of financial support from the gambling industry. In their place is one guy who might support a gambling resolution, and one guy who won’t. That means that they need at least one of the other new members to be a proponent and to have replaced someone who wasn’t just to break even from 2009, when they didn’t have enough votes to pass anything. What are the odds of that?
Further, I’m sure that if you looked at more of the individual cases, you’d see more of the same. Here in Harris County, for example, Rep. Ellen Cohen was a gambling supporter – in her interview with me, she stated unequivocally that she would vote for a resolution to allow expanded gambling. There’s nothing on Sarah Davis’ wafer-thin issues page that mentions gambling, but an anti-Cohen site attacked her for having “voted for legalizing gambling on Indian reservations”. In other words, at best the pro-gambling forces have broken even, and at worst they’re down another vote. I doubt it will be different in the other races the Democrats lost. And there’s still the passing of Rep. Ed Kuempel, too.
The bottom line, then, is that a number of legislators who were known to be supportive of a gambling resolution will not be there next year. In their place are a bunch of people who are almost certainly less supportive as a group than their predecessors. If there’s an example of an anti-gambling person being replaced by a gambling supporter, I’m not aware of it. The craps table offers much better odds than this.