Allowing gambling in Texas could boost the economy, create thousands of jobs and help lawmakers close the state's looming budget gap, gambling advocates told lawmakers in a House committee meeting today.

Lawmakers considered a slew of gambling bills, including ones that dealt specifically with gaming at Indian reservations and race tracks and ones that would allow full-blown casino resorts.

A bill by state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would send the gambling question to voters, allowing them to decide in a constitutional amendment election whether gambling ought to be expanded.

Alvarado said gaming could be one piece of a solution to Texas' massive budget shortfall.

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Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Golden Nugget Casino in Nevada and of Landry’s Restaurants based in Houston, said Texans are already gambling. They just have to go to other states, like nearby Oklahoma, Louisiana or New Mexico. "Our tax dollars continue to leave," he said.

“Texans spend approximately $4 billion each year in casinos in Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico and Nevada,” said Jack Pratt, chairman of the Texas Gaming Association. A report by the association showed that Texas could see $1.3 billion annually in tax revenue and nearly 40,000 new jobs if gaming is expanded. “We believe it is time to let the voters decide this important issue,” Pratt said.

Jon Hockenyos, president of TXP consulting firm, which recently completed a study released by Win for Texas, a group supporting slot machines at race tracks, told the committee that 77,000 permanent jobs could be created by allowing slots and the state would gain almost $800 million in tax revenue over the next biennium.

But Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, told lawmakers to be wary of promises and revenue estimates gambling proponents make. She urged lawmakers to be aware of potential costs of the new industry, such as addictive gambling.

Pat Carlson, of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum, also testified against the bills and said gambling is not family friendly or business friendly and would lead to more crime. She also warned that grassroots Republicans would oppose expanding gambling.

The bills were left pending.

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