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Poker bill coming to a vote

HB222, the bill that would legalize poker rooms, is on the House calendar for today, so barring a point of order or some other complication it will get a floor vote. It hadn’t looked too good for the bill’s prospects last week, so this is a turnaround. That may be because, as its author Rep. Jose Menendez said, that it was “ratcheted back” to limit poker to racetracks and Indian casinos, in the event they get legalized. I can’t quite tell from the bill’s text if that’s the case. In any event, I know about this addition to the calendar because of an email alert I received from Texans Against Gambling, which included a statement of their opposition to HB222. I have also solicited and received a response to TAG’s statement from Mike Lavigne on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance. Both are reproduced beneath the fold for your perusal. I appreciate TAG’s position, but I still support HB222. We’ll see if the House does as well.

UPDATE: And it’s off the calendar and possibly officially dead for the session as Rep. Menendez postpones it to seek an assurance from Gov. Perry not to veto it.


Statement from Texans Against Gambling:

Weston Ware, legislative director for Texans Against Gambling, issued this statement today regarding House Bill 222, which legalizes poker, including electronic poker, in Texas. The bill was voted out of Calendars Committee on Thursday and will be scheduled for a floor vote.

“This bill is not about legalizing poker games with friends around the kitchen table. It is a ploy by the pro-gambling industry to crack Texas’ constitutional ban against gambling by making the absurd argument that poker is not a game of chance, but of skill.

“The next time someone uses their skill as a player to get dealt three-of-a-kind, call me.

“HB 222, among other things, would allow electronic poker tables to operate 24/7 in bars and restaurants. These Class III gambling devices mimic the addictive qualities of slot machines based on the speed of play (a good player can go through as many as 12 hands a minute).They have the ability to keep players playing (many video-poker outlets are open 24 hours and it’s not unusual to hear of someone’s playing 36 hours straight). Also, the machines are designed to create the false perception that skill is involved in what is ultimately a game of chance.

“HB 222 flirts recklessly with federal law that says very clearly that if Texas legalizes any type of Class III gambling, the three federally-recognized Indian tribes in Texas may move full tilt into casino gambling Federally recognized tribes from Oklahoma and other states also are poised to leverage “historical properties” in Texas if House Bill 222 passes and Class III games are authorized.

“HB 222 does not limit the amount of the wagers for any poker game. It can be a million dollars, or more. The collections for the state of Texas in this bill, however, are limited to only 18% of a $4 charge per game; only 90 cents per player even if the wagers are a million dollars. By contrast, the Lottery of Texas yields 28 cents for EVERY DOLLAR Wagered: a million dollars wagered in the Lottery would yield $280,000 for Texas. Four players wagering a million dollars in poker game in HB 222 would yield $3.60 for the state of Texas.

“As it is written, HB 222 claims Indian casinos offering poker can be taxed. The Department of the Interior has generally prohibited such taxation. Therefore, Texas would not have the ability to either tax or regulate these gambling enterprises. Do we really want such untouchable cash-based businesses operating alongside drug cartels on our borders?

“HB 222 is a pay-back to the gambling lobby for $7.6 million in donations in 2008. But it’s a stab in the back to Texas citizens who look to their elected representatives for sound decisions about Texas future. Lawmakers should vote no on HB 222.”

TAG is a non-partisan coalition of public policy, political, religious and law enforcement groups that oppose the expansion of predatory gambling in Texas. For more information, go to www.texansagainstgambling.org.

Statement from Mike Lavigne on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance:

Mr. Ware is content to let Oklahoma indians and Louisiana casinos dictate texas policy. I have 65,000 Texas members of the PPA that disagree with his angry ravings and scare tactics.

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