March 15, 2005
Next up: Gambling

Gird your loins, 'cause here it comes.

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.

Look carefully at those numbers, then look at these. If gambling interests are dropping that much dough on this, it's because they see a very, very big payoff for them in the future. Forget for a moment questions about whether or not this is actual good public policy or not, since you can be sure that's not a real consideration anyway. This is about gambling interests seeing a fortune to be made, and investing accordingly.

Via Lasso. Also via Lasso is this story about one of the likely big winners if casinos are allowed to populate our landscape.

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.

Only 220 grand on lobbying so far? Piker.

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.

By an amazing coincidence, all three of those ideas would tend to benefit the resort-oriented, highly capitalized, fully Texan Tilman Fertitta. Maybe he doesn't have to spend all that much on lobbying if he can get this kind of assistance for free.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 15, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack


Frequent reader...Wanted to invite you (and ask you to invite your readers) to participate in my "Bloggers Bracket," an NCAA Tournament Pool for Bloggers.


Yoni Cohen,

Posted by: yoni cohen on March 15, 2005 5:12 PM