February 25, 2005
Again with the casinos

There's another move afoot to install casinos in Texas, but this time it's a little different than before.

Downtown Houston and Galveston Island could become casino destinations to compete with anything Las Vegas has to offer, a Houston senator said Thursday.

"Why should we subsidize Louisiana and Nevada when we can create jobs and boost economic development here at home?" Sen. Rodney Ellis asked.

Ellis filed a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would let Texans decide whether to allow seven casinos in urban areas, two on Gulf Coast islands and three in targeted economic development areas.

His measure, Senate Joint Resolution 18, would require a statewide vote and then local option elections in each county where a casino is proposed.


The proposed constitutional amendment filed by Ellis differs considerably from one filed earlier this month by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. Turner's House Joint Resolution 38 would allow state-taxed slot machines at horse and dog tracks and Indian reservations, as well as at one location in each of nine areas around the state.

Ellis said track owners would have to compete along with everyone else for casino licenses.

If there's going to be expanded gambling of some kind in Texas, this is the way it should be done, with no special favors to an existing industry and with voter approval at both the statewide and local levels. Moreover, this does not appear to be getting sold as a panacea for school funding. I'm still generally opposed to expanded gambling in Texas, but I'm not fanatically opposed to this plan.

There's quite a bit of backstory that needs to be considered here. First, note that in this report, Sen. Ellis was much more pointed about the potential to keep gambling dollars in-state:

“You could just about shut down gaming in Louisiana if you legalized it in Texas,” Ellis said. “What I want to do is let the people of Texas finally decide this issue.”

If you think that won't sit well with the Louisiana gambling industry, you'd be right. According to Inside the Texas Capitol, there's already a lobbying effort from Louisiana as well as Oklahoma and New Mexico to defeat expanded gambling in Texas. ItTC's post is actually about the Sylvester Turner bill, which would legalize slot machines and dog and horse tracks, but you can be sure the same will be true for the Ellis bill, which is cosponsored in the House by Charlie Geren (R, Fort Worth). Closer to home, one wonders if State GOP hatchetwoman Tina Benkiser will show Ellis and Geren the same kind of love she showed Turner.

Note this quote from ItTC:

Freshman Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) said it best: "This item is the one on which we [Dem's] have the most leverage because a lot of Republicans want this bill – but they don't want to have to vote for it." To clarify, this is the only issue that Democrats have leverage on this session. Maybe tuition re-regulation, if they're lucky.

What might the Democrats get for their support (and their cover) if they play their cards right? Whatever it is, I hope it's worth it.

Finally, no issue is so serious that it can't be made fun of. Thankfully, In the Pink Texas is on the job.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 25, 2005 to That's our Lege