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Carona Sets the Stage for Hearing on Gambling Measure

"You never really know when a major issue like this will find a break or an opportunity to be passed," state Sen. John Carona said Monday of proposed legislation that could lead to the legalization of casino gambling in Texas.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, at a press conference April 8, 2013 calling for another push to legalize casino gambling in Texas.

Lawmakers may not pass legislation this session that could help legalize casino gambling in Texas, but they are “inching closer and closer to that day,” state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said Monday.

At a news conference in the Capitol, Carona and other gaming supporters touted Senate Joint Resolution 64, which would let Texas voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow casino gambling and provide support for other types of gambling in the state, like horse racing. Carona’s bill is set to go before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, which he chairs, on Wednesday.

Efforts to allow casino gambling in Texas have failed multiple times before, and the trend isn’t expected to change this session. But Carona said gaming interests that have consistently disagreed in the past, including casino resort owners and racetrack industry leaders, have reached some important compromises. In his book, that’s a mark of success – even if his legislation doesn’t advance.

"You never really know when a major issue like this will find a break or an opportunity to be passed," Carona said. "As more and more states pass legalization or expanded gaming, with Texas being one of only 10 states left that don't, I think the opportunity will present itself if not during this session then perhaps next or [during] a special session on school finance, should there be one."

His measure is one of several that proposes constitutional amendments on the issue, including SJR 6 by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. But such legislation has seen little movement in the House or the Senate. 

Critics say that existing gambling hasn’t generated as much as tax revenue as proponents have promised, while others say gambling violates moral principles important to many Texans.

Carona said the proposed gaming provisions would add tens of thousands jobs in the state, bring in money for infrastructure and local governments, and stop the flow of Texas money to other states’ casinos.

“A recent report shows Oklahoma is the largest generator of gaming revenue — we all know where that money is coming from,” Carona said.

Representatives of various gaming and business interests joined Carona on Monday and said legislators shouldn’t ignore the financial benefits that increased gaming would bring.

Jack Pratt, the chairman of the Texas Gaming Association, said he believes Texans would vote in favor of a constitutional amendment that would help industries like tourism and entertainment and bring money to the state. Various polls have indicated that a majority of Texans support casino gambling, including a Texas Tribune Poll from 2011.

“It’s time for this long debate to reach John Q. Public,” Pratt said.

Texas voters aren’t electing legislators who loudly advocate for expanded gaming, said Rob Kohler, who represents the Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission. Previous gaming initiatives, including the Texas Lottery and pari-mutuel horse and greyhound racing, have failed to generate promised tax revenue, he added.

“We’ve just seen no movement, none of the things that you look for to see if something has the opportunity to pass have presented themselves,” said Kohler, who will be at Wednesday’s committee hearing to speak in opposition to Carona’s bill. “That’s okay, we like that.”

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Politics State government Gambling Texas Legislature