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House Makes Switch on Texas Lottery Commission

UPDATED: After unexpectedly voting to end the Texas Lottery Commission earlier Tuesday, the Texas House reversed course Tuesday afternoon with a vote to continue the commission.

"Check your ticket" lottery machine in an Austin, TX gas station.

Updated, 4:35 p.m.: 

In a 91-53 vote Tuesday afternoon, the Texas House passed House Bill 2197, continuing the the Texas Lottery Commission. An earlier vote Tuesday had failed to continue the commission.

Bill supporters spent the hour after the first vote impressing on those who voted against it the impact of cutting $2.2 billion from schools. The House Republican Caucus hastily assembled to discuss the situation.

“I think when people took a sober look at the budget dilemma that would ensue, they voted different," said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the bill's author.

Several lottery critics in the House saw the day's drama as a victory, setting the stage for a more thorough debate on the lottery in the future. Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he originally voted "no" largely to make clear his opposition to gambling. Once that statement was made, it made more sense to back the Lottery Commission for now.

"I don't like gambling, but I do like school funding," Aycock said. "It was, for me, at least, a signal vote. I sort of anticipated I would switch that vote when I made it."

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said school funding was also the primary motivator for his switch.

"When you weigh principle vs a billion dollars in public ed, I set aside my principle for a billion dollars in public ed," Burnam said. "I still hate the lottery."

The House still has to vote one more time on the bill, though that vote is usually a formality. Anchia said he wasn't assuming the bill was a done deal.

“The House is a mercurial place," he said. "There’s all kinds of surprises in the House and this was one of them.”

Original story:

In an outcome that left many House members stunned, a bill to continue the Texas Lottery Commission failed on Tuesday, potentially abolishing scratch-off tickets, charity bingo and other popular games of chance and blowing a new hole in the state budget.

The House voted 65-81 on House Bill 2197, which would have continued the functions of the Texas Lottery Commission. The vote reflected a growing sentiment among House members that the lottery unfairly preys on the state’s low-income residents.

“I think you just had a lot of people that are philosophically opposed to the lottery,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the bill's author. “A lot of people just hate the lottery.”

If left unresolved, budget writers would have $1.1 billion a year less for public schools, supporters warned. Anchia, who had not expected the bill to fail, said he worried that even if the bill can be revived in the Senate, it would fail again in the House.

During a spirited debate on the bill, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, got a round of applause in the House as he spoke against the bill, calling the lottery a “predatory tax” and “a tax on poor people.”

As soon as the vote was over, House leaders were already discussing possible workarounds to keep the programs going. Anchia said the House may reconsider the vote.

Texans spent $3.8 billion on lottery tickets in the 2011 fiscal year, according to the Legislative Budget Board. The majority of that was paid out to players and retailers, with $963 million transferred to the Foundation School Account. Another $8.1 million was transferred to the Texas Veterans Commission.

Anchia warned that charity groups around the state would be outraged at learning they could no longer host bingo games.

“VFW Bingo’s dead now," Anchia said. "They’re going to have to go back to their constituents and explain why bingo is illegal.”

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, is one of the five House members appointed to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate budgets. He noted that the committee was having its first meeting today and worried about whether conferees will have to contend with a new $2.2 billion hole they had not anticipated.

“In very lay person terms, what is the financial impact of the vote on 2197?” Turner asked state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, who was manning the dais during the debate in House Speaker Joe Straus’ absence. After consulting with the House parliamentarian, Harper-Brown replied, “The Lottery Commission is gone.”

Reps. Sanford and Anchia talked to Alana Rocha about how the debate over HB 2197 played out and what it signals for gambling legislation moving forward.

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