Gambling interests have raised their ante in the Texas Capitol this session, spending millions of dollars on lobbyists who are trying to end Texas' prohibition on casinos.
Pro-gaming forces – advocates for bingo, casinos, slot machines and expanding the lottery – have spent between $3.4 million and $6.2 million on their lobbyists this legislative session, according to state records.
If casino gambling comes to the Lone Star State, a Texan – restaurateur Tilman Fertitta – is an odds-on favorite to build the first one, though he's keeping his cards close to the vest for now.
"I don't really care if they pass it in Texas or not," Mr. Fertitta said in an interview.
But as the conversation continued, it became clear that he's thought about it a great deal.
"If we do it, I want to see it done in a first-class way." he said. "Let's do tier-one properties that are in resort areas that bring in tourism and ... stop your upper demographics in Houston and Dallas from getting on a plane and going to Vegas."
There's other evidence he has more than a passing interest.
His company, Landry's Restaurants Inc., is a leading spender lobbying the issue as the Texas Legislature debates ways to balance the state budget. The company has reported spending at least $220,000.
And Landry's, which until now specialized in seafood and steaks, recently agreed to buy the Golden Nugget casino-hotel in Las Vegas for $140 million cash and $155 million in debt.
And the How Did They Manage To Write That With A Straight Face? award goes to story author Bruce Nichols, for committing this to paper:
Mr. Fertitta's ideas for Texas:
•Don't just legalize slot machines at horse and dog tracks. Resort casinos attract a richer market.
•Set a minimum license fee, say $50 million, to attract only strong operators.
•Require 51 percent Texas ownership to keep profits at home.