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PRO: Keep Texas money in state

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


DID YOU KNOW?

According to proposed House Joint Resolution 112

$50 million - Application fee for owner's license for a casino

$35 million - Application fee for a slot establishment

35% - Tax on gross slot income at racetracks

15% - Tax on gaming revenue at casinos

THE AMENDMENT

Proposed bills, that have to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature, seek to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that reads, "The constitutional amendment creating the Texas Gaming Commission and authorizing and regulating casino games and slot machines by licensed operators and certain Indian tribes to provide money for the property tax relief fund and additional financial aid for higher education students."

INTRODUCTION

Proposed bills, including SJR 34 and HJR 112, to expand gambling in Texas are making the rounds of the 82nd Legislative session in Austin.

One plan allows slot machines to be immediately moved into existing horse tracks and dog tracks across the state where parimutuel betting is already taking place.

Another proposal would allow the creation of "destination casinos" statewide.

Both require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and a majority vote of the citizens in November.

Would the extension of gambling help solve the state's financial crisis?

Calhoun County Sheriff B.B. Browning would like to see slot machines and casinos in Texas.

"What's the hold up?" asked the sheriff. "We should have done this a long time ago."

The hold up has been the state Legislature and supporters of extending gambling in Texas wanting lawmakers to let the people decide.

Expansion of gambling to include slot machines at existing horse tracks, dog tracks and Indian reservations and the construction of eight destination casinos would infuse hundreds of millions of dollars into an ailing Texas economy, supporters claim.

"I'd rather spend my gambling money in Texas so it stays here," said Victoria landscaper Jonathan Leal. "Plus it saves me a long drive."

Win for Texas, a pro-gambling organization, released a study earlier this spring that said 77,500 new, permanent jobs would be created if slots are allowed at Texas horse tracks, greyhound tracks and recognized Indian reservations.

Proponents also think the legislation that includes the construction of eight designation casinos in the state is an opportunity to keep Texas dollars in Texas.

The Casino Association of Louisiana reports that 53 percent of that state's gaming revenue comes from out-of-state, most of it from Texas and primarily from the Houston and Dallas areas.

According to the Win for Texas study, Texans spend $2.7 billion on gaming in a seven-state region every year. The study estimates that $2.2 billion of this "leakage" could be kept in Texas simply by allowing slot machines at existing racetracks and Indian reservations.

It also estimates that about $2.4 billion in gaming revenue (and $3.8 billion total) would appear in-state by the end of 2013.

This, in turn, would create $8.5 billion in total economic activity, $2.6 billion in earnings, and about 77,500 permanent jobs, according to the study.

The Texas Gaming Association supports building casinos in heavily populated urban areas and tourist destinations including two in Dallas County, two in Harris County, one in Tarrant County, one in Bexar County or some combination similar to that plan as well as two on the barrier islands near either Corpus Christi, Galveston Island or South Padre, TGA spokesman Scott Dunaway said in a telephone interview with the Advocate.

"Texas is a sought-after market," Dunaway said. "We're talking not only about casinos, but hotels, restaurants and more. Texas can sustain those kinds of businesses. In the urban areas, we're talking about what could be $2 billion investments."

Industry experts agree.

"Texas is one of the great untapped global markets for development of destination resort casinos and our company is very committed to pursuing this opportunity," Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations and community development at the Las Vegas Sands Corp. said in a TGA news release. "Creation of destination resort casinos in Texas would lead to significant capital investment in the state from world-class companies. These facilities would create thousands of new jobs, expanded convention business and new tax revenue for the state and local communities."

Dunaway said the TGA simply wants the voters of Texas to have a say.

"They want the opportunity to vote on the issue and the opportunity to keep Texas dollars in Texas," he said.

Dunaway said he expects Rep. Mike Hamilton, chairman of the licensing and administrative procedures committee, to introduce a new bill this week that "blends" the different gambling bills that have been introduced.

"Texans want a chance to vote on it," Dunaway said. "We think that message is resonating with legislators. They trust Texans to make the right decision."

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