San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by TODD WISEMAN

TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by TODD WISEMAN

by AUDREY WHITE

A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize casino gaming might see substantial changes before the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce votes on it.

For example, Senate Joint Resolution 64 as currently written would hurt charitable organizations that use bingo to raise funds, said Phil Sanderson, director of governmental relations for Texas Charity Advocates. State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who authored the bill and chairs the committee, said during a committee hearing Wednesday that he is sensitive to those concerns.

“The state gets about $30 million per year from bingo. The bill is looking to help a horse racing industry in dire need,” Sanderson said, an effort he supports. “But it also needs to keep bingo in mind so nonprofits can continue earning money for their charitable causes.”

Texans spend about $3 billion to gamble in adjacent states every year, according to Let Texans Decide, which supports a statewide vote on legalizing casinos. And Carona, along with Texas horse racing industry leaders and gaming advocates, hopes to bring that money back to Texas.

Jason Velasco, a businessman from Round Rock, said he travels regularly to WinStar Casino in Oklahoma to play poker, a game he compared to chess.

“I’m always surprised and amazed that the majority of players I’m sitting with at WinStar are from Texas,” Velasco said. “I simply would like the opportunity to vote to have legalized poker games in Texas.”

Legislators have been trying to legalize gambling for many sessions. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has been working on the issue for two decades. The last major expansion of gaming was in 1991, when lawmakers and then voters approved the state lottery.

“I’m not a gambling man, but I have carried similar legislation since Ann Richards was in,” Ellis said. This session, he filed SJR 6, another bill that would put a gambling amendment before Texas voters, and said he would work with Carona’s office to put together a good bill to send to the floor.

Carona said his bill is sensitive to Texans who may be ideologically opposed to gambling by limiting the number of total casinos in the state and by putting most of the details into the constitutional amendment itself — that means changes to the rules surrounding casinos would require another statewide vote.

But for some Texans, any amount of casino gambling is too much. Melinda Fredricks, the vice chairwoman of the Republican Party of Texas, doesn’t buy the idea that Republican legislators can support a statewide vote on gambling even if they oppose gambling itself. The Republican Party platform includes anti-gambling language.

“We see this as a veiled attempt to pass the buck,” Fredricks said. “The root issue is diametrically opposed to our core values.”

But Texans are already gambling, said Jack Pratt, head of the Texas Gaming Association. They’re doing it in other states, in the lottery, at race tracks, and illegally in 8-liner halls and online, he said.

“Two-thirds of adults have gone out of state and taken their Texas money to gamble,” Pratt said. “There seems to be a fear to let them have the vote.”

Many gambling advocates and opponents say the votes likely aren’t there to get the necessary two-thirds approval in each chamber to send the amendment to Texas voters. Carona himself acknowledged at a Monday press conference that it might not pass this session.

With many groups hoping to have their amendments and interests considered during revisions, the bill remains pending in the committee.


AUDREY WHITE reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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7 thoughts on “Senators talk legalizing casinos in Texas

  1. It’s time to legalize gambling in Texas. The tax dollars will help education and we can stop giving that money to our surrounding states. People aren’t going to stop gambling there, you’re just going to continue not seeing any revenue from it!

  2. Stop putting money ahead of our state. We have plenty of money coming into our state. No, gambling won’t go away today, but there is more than enough proof that the closer you are to it the more you do it. So, let’s let Nevada, Atlantic City, etc. destroy themselves. I don’t understand why people think it’s a good thing to steal from the citizens to give to the government.

  3. It is not time to legalize gambling in Texas. The ridiculous lottery is bad enough.

  4. How is it stealing if you choose to gamble on your own volition? At the least we should be consistent and ban Bingo since that is harming people too, right?

    Look who contributes money to our hallowed state legislators’ coffers and see how much comes from gambling interests in the bordering states if you want to see why this likely won’t happen. Oh yeah and our good leaders really care about the morality of our fair state, no doubt. But, good Lord, is there any worse candidate to determine proper moral boundaries than a politician?!? The most asinine thing about it is that many, if not most, of the same people who desire to so self-righteously protect us from our own choices also make the claim about how “small government” they are. And we’re too foolish to recognize and call them on it. And so it goes, blah, blah, blah…

  5. I am not into gambling but I know a lot of people that do. I live in Wichita Falls, TX, less than 20 miles from casinos across the Oklahoma border. I think Texas should at least pass a law to legalize casinos in an area of Texas 50 miles or less near border states ,that currently have casinos. This way this same % of people that gamble already will keep tax dollars in TX to rebuild our infrastructure & schools. If TX would a at least ear mark a fixed 15% to 20% towards education & social programs and the rest in the general fund, this would help the charities and churches from the financial burden.

  6. ask your state representatives to allow a nonbinding vote (11/14) to see how voters feel about casino gambling in texas. monies received by the state can be used to reduce property taxes. let’s do this!!! rr

  7. YES BRING CASINO’S TO TEXAS. THIS WOULD BRINGS ALOT OF JOBS FOR PEOPLE THAT DONT HAVE A GREAT EDUCATION. AND WE COULD ALSO KEEP THE MONEY IN OUR STATE. I LOVE TO GAMBLE , BUT I KNOW HOW MUCH I CAN AFFORD TO SPEND.

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