The chairman of the House committee that oversees gambling said Friday he has strong support for legislation that would open the door for 17 casinos, slot machines at racetracks, and Indian gaming in Texas.
Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, said the omnibus gaming bill, which would let voters decide whether to allow gambling in Texas, probably won't be firmed up in his committee until next week. But he said the measure lawmakers are negotiating merges the interests of oft-competing resort casino developers and racetrack operators - as well as Indian reservations that had their casinos shuttered in 2002.
Kuempel stressed that the details of the bill could change in the next week. But he said right now, lawmakers on the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee have a framework that would allow up to 17 resort casinos: 3 on Indian reservations; 2 on the South Texas barrier islands; 1 in the Port Arthur area; 3 at Class 1 racetracks; 2 at Class 2 racetracks; and 6 others spread out across the rest of the state.
The measure would also allow slot machines at racetracks and other forms of gaming on Indian reservations.
In the meantime, it would seem that the competing interests may have found a way to put aside their differences and get something on the table, as it were.
Outside a Capitol hearing on casinos and other gambling not allowed in Texas, an advocate for legalizing slot machines at horse and dog tracks called a pro-casino lobbyist a "pathological liar."
Separately, the critiqued lobbyist said anyone suggesting that he scrawled on a handout and misrepresented Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's position on casinos was lying.
The testy moments last week served as reminders that the fight over bolstering legal gambling in Texas beyond betting on dogs and horses remains a legislative spectacle, entwining lawmakers, lobbyists, developers, Indian tribes, casino interests, tracks, and horse and dog owners, some of whom might feel like perennial players in a gamblers' version of the movie "Groundhog Day."
The renewed bickering this session could again bog down efforts to expand gambling.
Rep. Edmund Kuempel, chairman of the House Committee on Licensing & Administrative Procedures, has said a gambling measure should be achievable this year.
Kuempel, who presided over hours of public testimony last week, huddled privately Monday with House sponsors of various proposals in hopes of reaching a common-ground package. "We've got to explore every possibility," he said.
At the start of the session, Kuempel provided space in his office for casino and track interests to hammer out an agreement potentially bringing legislators together. Noting the state's financial straits, Kuempel exhorted: "If you can't get it together this time, all of you should be shot."