I don't think the election of Rep. Joe Straus as Speaker of the House really changes the equation for the gambling industry and its hopes for an expansion of their business in Texas, but I can understand why they're feeling better about their chances these days.
Joe Straus, the San Antonio Republican who's likely to become the next House speaker, comes from a family intimately entwined in Texas horse racing -- a family that would stand to gain from legislation easing the restrictions on racetrack betting.
Since emerging over the weekend as the sole candidate to replace House Speaker Tom Craddick, Straus has promised a hands-off approach to gambling of any sort: "As speaker, I'll stay away from it ... and not allow it to be a distraction or an issue," he said this week.
Gambling supporters say they welcome Straus, but they're not yet counting their fortunes.
"I don't think we win or lose anything" with Straus at the helm, said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, a fierce gambling advocate who chairs the House committee that oversees gambling.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he strongly supports passing a constitutional referendum that would allow voters to decide if they support legalized gambling.
He believes the public would approve the idea, particularly if a portion of the revenue would go to cash-strapped state priorities, such as Hurricane Ike relief or higher pay for teachers and corrections officers.
If voters approved, the Legislature could in a later session settle the thorny issue of whether to allow traditional casinos or the more limited idea of slot machines in horse racing tracks, Whitmire said.
"Before you get to working out those complications, you first have to ask the people to vote on it," he said.
Gambling has faced intense opposition in Texas. Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas Christian Life Commission, an arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, argues that gambling is an unstable, unreliable revenue source, and takes money from people who can ill afford it.
"The last thing the state of Texas should be doing is encouraging people, in this economy, to gamble away their money," Paynter said.
UPDATE: My bad, I forgot that joint resolutions do not require a gubernatorial signature. Thanks to Matt and David for the correction.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 10, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo