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CON: Gambling, no way to fund government

By Sonny Long
April 24, 2011 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2011 at 11:24 p.m.

Glenn Hegar

SURVEY OF LEGISLATORS

In 2010, the Dallas Morning News conducted a survey of Texas legislators on the gambling issue. The results:

House - 115 of 150 responded with 54 against, 27 in favor and 26 undecided, 8 no comment.

Senate - 24 of 31 responded with 11 against, 6 in favor, 7 no comment.

Either total of those against would kill the proposal in both the House or Senate.

WHERE WOULD THE MONEY GO?

Proposed bills to expand gaming in Texas have similar plans on how the funds would be distributed. These include:

1/30th to the municipality in which a casino is located.

1/30th to the county in which a casino is located.

1/20th to general revenue to be appropriated to a compulsive gambling program

1/30th to the Texas Gaming Commission to investigate and prosecute gambling offenses.

Remaining dedicated to property tax relief.

Non-gaming state taxes collected at casinos and slot establishments would be deposited to the Texas grants program.

Expansion of gambling in Texas meets the standard opposition.

For example, look no further than the pulpit.

Arthur Nelson, pastor of Victoria Church of God in Victoria, said he once struggled with gambling.

"My main concern is that it is so addictive," Nelson said. "I've been there myself and can't believe I got loose from that thing."

He thinks Texas should not expand gambling in the state.

"There is enough gambling in the world," he said. "We don't need it in Texas. Let Texas stand out above all the rest of the states."

Religious organizations also oppose the expansion gaming.

These include the Baptist General Convention of Texas that in November passed a resolution urging lawmakers to reject any expansion of gambling in Texas.

The resolution read, in part, "We ... declare our opposition to gambling, specifically to the expansion of gambling in Texas.

"We call upon our elected officials to reject any state budget that relies on monies from gambling to fund legitimate state responsibilities.

"We encourage our churches in their continued efforts to educate their members about the dangers of gambling and minister to those caught in gambling addictions."

Rob Kohler, chief lobbyist for the group, said his organization is worried about the cost of seeing families ruined by gambling addiction.

"It's one thing to plan an annual trip to Lake Charles or Las Vegas," he said. "It's another danger entirely when the casino is sitting on a person's drive home from work every afternoon."

Even Las Vegas analysts aren't betting on the expansion of gambling in Texas.

Late last month, Justin Sebastiano, a gaming analyst with Morgan Joseph TriArtisan, an investment banking firm, told investors that he doubted any new gaming legislation would be approved in Texas, according to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"Despite the efforts of many gaming groups over the past 20 years or so, gaming legislation has never made its way out of the House or the Senate," Sebastiano said. "Texas residents have never voted on the topic. Despite the expected budget shortfall that the state would face in the next two years, we believe that, once again, the push for Texas gaming will likely fail."

That sentiment seems to be ringing true within the state capitol hallways, too.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, who represents Victoria in the state Senate, said, "I fully understand the significant challenges currently facing our state's horse industry and I stand strongly committed to making sure this industry, and those who are part of agricultural industry, can succeed and flourish.

"Likewise, I do not believe that gambling is an appropriate method for funding public schools or state government," Hegar said.

Another senator, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, who chairs the Senate's State Affairs Committee where proposed Senate gambling legislation is being referred, said in an article in the San Antonio Express-News that there is "no support" in his committee for gambling expansion.

"A lot of us have strong opposition to using gaming to solve our budget problems," Duncan said.

Why the opposition?

First of all, according to published reports, opponents challenge the amount of revenue that gaming expansion will generate and note that construction of casinos would take years and not immediately help the budget crunch.

"We feel like gambling is not good for Texas economically in the long run," said Mike Weber, chairman of Texans Against Gambling. "It's a temporary fix and will create more problems down the road. It centers on trying to go after the weak and the elderly."

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