Texas casino advocates have work to do

Posted Monday, Feb. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Legislature is in session, so it's time for supporters of casino gambling in Texas to make their biennial push for validation and approval.

As always, the proponents this year have adopted a "let the voters decide" mantra. While that might generate some sympathy for their cause (who in this nation can object to the democratic ideal?), it always has missed the point.

Ultimately, Texas voters would have to decide whether to approve a casino gambling proposal. But so far there has not been, even within the community of casino advocates, a proposal that can garner the votes of even a legislative majority, much less win a statewide election.

There are people in the Legislature and across Texas who oppose gambling on moral or religious grounds. There also are those who don't want to create a new stream of gambling tax revenue, afraid that it would be used to expand government. And there are those who simply are disinterested because they have other priorities.

In the middle of those varied interests, the gambling community itself has been split, chiefly along the lines of how the big casino companies think it should work versus how owners of horse and dog tracks think it should work. How could anyone expect lawmakers to birth a casino bill amid this confusion?

If first things are to come first, someone has to put a proposal on the table that at least creates enough unity to marginalize the hard-core opponents and unites the proponents.

For example, some proposals have said the horse and dog tracks would not be allowed to have casinos, only slot machines. Naturally, the track owners don't want such second-class status.

And how many casinos should there be? Where? What's the process for deciding? And does any of this deserve the time and effort lawmakers would have to put into it when there are other pressing interests like the state's needs in education, transportation and healthcare?

Putting gambling before the voters is the last decision to be made, not the first. Handing voters a hastily assembled package that would not pass or would set up a weak casino industry in Texas wouldn't help anyone.

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