AUSTIN - Video slot machines would be within driving distance of nearly every Texan under the session's first gambling legislation, introduced Tuesday by Houston Democrat Sylvester Turner.
In addition to allowing slot machines at horse and dog tracks and Indian reservations, the legislation would legalize the games at one location in each of nine areas around the state. It would raise more than $1.2 billion a year, Turner said.
Turner, a key member of Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team, said the gambling legislation represents a change of heart for him. He said he even talked with his pastor about the issue, weighing the need for better health care for children and the state's limited revenues against his opposition to gambling.
"Two years ago I would have voted 'no' on this," he said. "We can't be asking for additional revenue for children, pay raises for judges, significant property tax cuts, without trying to come up with legitimate ways to pay for those needs."
He filed two proposals, House Bill 897, the actual legislation, and House Joint Resolution 38, a constitutional amendment necessary to expand gambling in Texas.
The bill doesn't specify a location for slot machines in Houston or Galveston, but there could be one site in each area. Last session, a Houston lawmaker proposed turning the Astrodome into the world's largest luxury casino.
Getting the video lottery measure on the ballot in November would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Turner said the issue is being introduced in the House first because that's where it faces the stiffest opposition.
A proposed constitutional amendment to allow slot machines at horse and dog tracks was voted down in May during a special session on school finance.
That proposal was part of Gov. Rick Perry's effort to cut local school taxes. He said at the time that video slots would cut into the illegal, unregulated gambling now practiced with machines called eight-liners in parts of the state. However, last month, Perry backed away from gambling, which is opposed by the Texas Republican Party. He said that with the state in better financial shape, he didn't think gambling is as attractive to the Legislature.
If the Legislature approves the proposed constitutional amendment, it is not subject to a veto by the governor.
Turner said he thinks video slots may be more attractive than ever as the state struggles to find revenue sources to pay for a property tax cut and more funding for education and other priorities.
Craddick has said he thinks video gambling will at least get to a vote in the House, but he decided not to link it to school finance legislation. He said it will be treated separately because of the uncertainty of getting the two-thirds vote needed to place the issue on the ballot.
Turner's idea of having a location for video slots in every region of the state is reminiscent of a plan floated by Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, during last spring's special session. Armbrister won the support of many senators by including locations that could boost their local economies.
Turner's bill would give the Texas Lottery Commission authority to issue a video lottery retailer license in Houston, Galveston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, the lower Rio Grande Valley, East Texas, the Panhandle-South Plains area and Central Texas.
Before this Bill can pass the Texas Constitution must be amended (Article III, Section 47). Of course the current constitution prohibits gambling, lotteries, etc. However, when the State Lotto was passed they created an exception that allowed it. This would be the same thing. The resolution to amend the constitution is HJR 38. The Bill to legalize slots is HB 897. You can view and track these items here.The proposed constitutional amendment will be submitted to the voters at an election to be held on November 8, 2005. The ballot shall be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the operation of video lottery games on behalf of the state by persons licensed to conduct wagering on horse or greyhound races, persons licensed to operate video lottery games at nine additional locations, and recognized Indian tribes."
Unfortunately, it doesn't include poker. However, if this passes, I'm pretty sure poker won't be far behind.
See, this is exactly the kind of shit that I don't want my government endorsing and propagating. It's bad enough that the state of Texas takes advantage of undereducated - and thus disproportionately poor - citizens through the scam that is the Texas Lottery. Now we can tax incomes earned from people stupid enough to stick money 24/7 into a machine that is *guaranteed* to eventually keep all of that money. Ridiculous. And wrong.