A fresh push for casino gambling - Friday 27th of February 2009

State lawmakers from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio - plus the head of the House budget-writing committee - today launched a fresh push for Las Vegas-style destination resort casinos in Texas.

Slot machines also would be allowed at the states existing race tracks under the proposal by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio; and House Appropriations Committee Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. In addition, the three federally recognized Indian tribes could operate a casino on their tribal lands.

"Texans already are voting with their feet and going out of state" to gamble, said Ellis. Menendez noted that Texas is "surrounded by gaming."

Opposition immediately arose from a racetrack group that is pushing more narrowly for slot machines at tracks and from conservative and Christian groups.

Backers of Senate Joint Resolution 31 and Senate Bill 1084, the broad gambling legislation, said their proposal would bring in at least $3 billion a year in new state and local revenue.

The legislation calls for $1 billion to be funneled to a trust fund for college scholarships and another $1 billion to transportation.

Casino proponents also said their proposal would create 90,000 to 120,000 direct jobs.

Up to 12 casinos would be allowed statewide, with designated areas for nine of them: Galveston, South Padre Island, Bexar County, Tarrant County, Travis County and two each in Dallas and Harris Counties.

Tommy Azopardi of Texans for Economic Development, the racetrack group, said the legislation would create a "widely disparate tax rate" between casinos and tracks (15 percent versus 35 percent), wouldnt allow tracks to have the same games as casinos and would greatly expand "the footprint of gambling in the state."

Casino backers said tracks could apply for one of the casino licenses but would have to go through the same process as other applicants.

Suzii Paynter of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention said casinos would be in competition with "family friendly" attractions and businesses and could cause them to close.

"Weve developed a tourism industry that is not yielding the byproduct of addiction," Paynter said. "Why would we give that up for an industry that promises entertainment but delivers addiction?"

Casino proponents disagree that casinos result in social ills including a higher crime rate and more gaming addiction.

Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum was unimpressed by the predicted job increase.

"Why in the world would we want our children to grow up to be card dealers and waitresses?" Adams asked.

The proposal would require approval of a constitutional amendment by two-thirds of lawmakers and voters statewide.

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