Group pushes for public vote on Texas casinos

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Jan. 16, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

A group of Texans are trying to get better odds on expanding gambling south of the Red River.

While eight-liner gaming, horse races and dog tracks are legal, some say Texas spends billions of dollars on casino-style gaming in the state's neighbors to the north, east and west - Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Let Texans Decide - a campaign to put the issue to a public vote - argues that the issue is about freedom, not morals.

John Montford, a consultant for the group, said the state is "prepared to live with the result" of opening up the industry.

"People of Texas don't like being told what they can or can't do with their money," Montford said. "We think the people of Texas are smart enough to handle this issue."

A pro-industry study showed it could result in 75,000 new jobs and contribute $8.5 billion in total economic activity as well as significant revenue for state infrastructure without raising taxes.

The move could also level the playing field for the horse racing industry. Texas cannot currently compete with out-of-state competition, which has higher purses that are subsidized with gambling revenue, Montford said.

He said the biggest companies - the Sheldon Adelson Group, Harrah's Entertainment and Wynn - would likely be interested in establishing casino-resorts along the Gulf Coast and in Texas' major metropolitan areas.

The 83rd Texas Legislature already has six bills filed relating to gambling, eight-liners and casino games.

However, some of Victoria County's elected leaders say this is not the place for gambling.

County Commissioner Danny Garcia said places like Vegas are "nice to visit," but "you may not want to live there."

He said the county is not prepared to handle the negative effects that come with legalized gambling - including the potential for increased crime, drug use or addiction.

"We want revenue, but it's a different kind of revenue," Garcia said. "We want more of a family atmosphere."

County Commissioner Clint Ives said although he played a mean game of Go Fish growing up, casinos and riverboats do not mesh with Victoria.

"I don't think it's right for Victoria County," Ives said. "Is it right for the state of Texas? That would be a state legislative decision."

Although the county does want to further industry and retail revenue, gambling is not the best method, he said.

He said Texas has Native American reservations where gambling is legal, but does not want to see that activity in the county.

"I think it brings in ancillary activities that simply are not right for Victoria County," he said. "Certainly, I'm not against gambling, but I don't think legalizing it within Victoria County would be the right move."



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