It was more like a bidding auction today than a meeting of the Texas House Committee on Licensing and Regulation. Gambling advocates packed into three Capitol hearing rooms, and threw out number after number as they asked legislators — yet again — to consider the benefits of more gaming in Texas.
With lawmakers facing an $18 billion budget hole in 2011, the gaming lobby is hoping that this year they will finally cash in. In past years, efforts to expand gambling in Texas with slot machines and resort-style casinos have been stymied by conservative lawmakers and religious groups who argue the evils that come along with gambling are too big a price to pay for the additional tax revenue it might generate. Today’s meeting, though, featured only gambling advocates.
John Hockenyos, president of TXP, an Austin-based economics consultancy hired by track owners' group Win for Texas, said the lack of gambling establishments in Texas doesn’t mean Texans aren’t doing it. They’ve spent an estimated $2.7 billion gambling in neighboring states, he said. “We are shipping a lot of benefits to other states and not getting much back,” he said.
Jack Pratt, of the Texas Gaming Association, said to get the most out of gambling, the state needs the big, glitzy resort-style casinos that bring droves of gamblers to places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. “We need to allow for people to go to a mega resort in Texas, making it cheaper for Texans so they won’t have to spend money on plane ticket to Vegas,” Pratt said.
If the Legislature approves more gambling in Texas, the gaming association claims it would create at least 87,000 jobs and generate state and local tax revenue up to $3 to $4.5 billion per year.
Sixty-eight percent of Texans would vote in favor for destination resorts in Texas according to a public opinion survey conducted by Wilson Research Strategies.
But if Texas places its bets on the gambling industry next year, it might not get the pay-off until 2013, said John Heleman, chief revenue estimator at the Comptroller’s office.