By Donna Garner
Remember when I was vilified across this state for raising the red flag against Joe Straus becoming the Speaker of the House for a second term? As the legislative session has progressed, I believe most conservatives are beginning to see Straus for what he really is.
When I wrote yesterday’s article (5.8.11) entitled “Stop Gambling Expansion in Texas” posted I utilized Texas Legislature Online (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/) which is thought to be the best place to track Texas legislation.
When I checked to see the progress of Rep. Beverly Woolley’s bill (HJR 111) under “Bill Stages,” HJR 111 had not even gotten out of the House committee yet; therefore, I did not think it had a chance of passing because today is the last day for House committees to report.
Late last night I heard from an inside source that Rep. Hamilton’s full-blown gambling bill (HJR 147 — video slot machines, casinos, gambling, and race tracks) had been dropped for lack of support; and instead, Rep. Beverly Woolley’s HJR 111 (video slot machines/video lottery terminals at race tracks and Indian reservations) is moving forward.
Why was the bill movement of Woolley’s HJR 111 not posted on the Texas Legislature Online? In fact, it still is not posted on the website (5.9.11, 9:12 A. M.); and this is Monday morning — two full days after the end of the legislative session on Friday. Is it a coincidence that the bill that will financially benefit the Speaker of the House the most just happens not to be visible online to the public?
HJR 111 is the bill that opens the floodgates. To use a Texas expression, it is the “big enchilada” and, of course, it is the bill that Speaker Joe Straus wanted from the very beginning — video lottery terminals/VLT’s, video lottery games, games of chance played on terminals that are electronically simulated at racetracks and Indian reservations.
Electronic gambling (e.g., slot machines) is one of the most dangerous forms of gambling because it preys on pathological gamblers.
Video Slot Machines are known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling because of their addictive nature…The addiction cycle is shorter – about 1 year to become addicted.
Failing race tracks would become major slot machine casinos, also called ‘Racinos,’ overnight.
Texas Observer Andrew Wheat wrote on 4.8.10, “Texas House Speaker Joe Straus III’s family could earn tens of millions of dollars if lawmakers and voters agree to let racetracks install slot machines (VLT’s).”
Joe Straus has had long-standing business interests in gambling. He and/or his family own Retama Park in Selma (near San Antonio), Laredo Downs, Valle de los Tesoros Park in McAllen, and Austin Jockey Club.
Retama has been losing money for several seasons, and it is not hard to imagine that Straus desperately wants to keep his family out of bankruptcy. It is also common knowledge that land has already been bought in Austin along FM 1625 at Texas Highway 45 and Old Lockhart Road to set up a racetrack called Longhorn Downs; Retama Entertainment Group (Straus’ family) is to manage it.
Speaker Straus chose the House chairs and committees; he also chose the Pro Tempore. Is it any coincidence that the person he chose to be the “vice-president” of the House is the person who is helping to carry the racetrack gambling bills – Rep. Beverly Woolley?
Rep. Beverly Woolley also co-authored HB 2111 which lays out the details of the way VLT’s would be implemented.
I feel sure there are many Texans who think there is nothing wrong with expanding gambling, particularly when our state is facing a severe budget crisis. Think again!
EMPTY RHETORIC ABOUT GAMBLING
When gambling bills are debated, the supporters always make sure that the bills contain all sorts of “comforting” statements about how controlled and legal such gambling operations would be and how huge numbers of jobs would be created for Texans. (Similar “comforting” gambling bills have been passed in many other states, and the graft and corruption have always followed.)
One of these “comforting” statements is being bandied around right now by the gambling supporters: “The expansion of gambling in Texas would create 77,500 permanent jobs in Texas.” First of all, how is this possible when there are only 178,700 jobs in the gambling industry nationwide?
What kind of gambling jobs would these be? The vast majority of employees would make less than $20,000 per year, possibly even lower than that because jobs in Texas usually pay less than the national average.
Furthermore, there is no incentive for gambling workers to move up; and there is plenty of data that suggests that people with low incomes wager more in total dollar amounts than people who make above $50,000 in income. In other words, the poorly educated gambling workers with their meager salaries of less than $20,000 per year would tend to gamble their paychecks away.
(Data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – 2010 – 2011
Texans Against Gambling – “Race Tracks and Video Slot Machines – VLT’s – 2008”
Most recently it [the racing industry] began lobbying for legalization of Video Slot Machines (VLTs) at the tracks, arguing again that slots at the tracks would provide significant tax revenue to the state. They do not emphasize that failing race tracks would become major slot machine casinos, also called ‘Racinos,’ overnight.
Video Slot Machines are known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling because of their addictive nature…The addiction cycle is shorter – about 1 year to become addicted… In fact, Big Gambling pays psychologists to assist game designers to make these machines more addictive, juicing up hypnotic sounds and sights and apparent near-misses to make users believe that skill is somehow involved in winning. In 2002, the Rhode Island Gambling Treatment Program identified video slots as ‘the most addictive form of gambling in history.’
Texas Public Policy Foundation — Research Report — March 2005 — “VLTs — What Are the Odds of Texas Winning?” by Chris Patterson
Excerpts from this report:
There are well-documented costs that are associated with gambling:
• Regulatory activities generally consume about 10 percent of gambling revenues;
• Criminal justice costs increase 8 to 13 percent;
• State lottery revenue decreases approximately 10 percent;
• Revenues from taxes on non-gambling goods and services decline as discretionary spending is redirected to gambling; and
• Jobs are lost in non-gambling businesses.
• Sales declined 10 to 20 percent among local businesses in Natchez, Mississippi after gambling was introduced;
• 50 percent of the city’s retail businesses and restaurants closed in Atlantic City within 10 years of the legalization of gambling;
• Violent crime increases up to 13 percent in counties with casinos that are least 4 years old;
• The State of Delaware reports underwriting between $1 to 1.5 million annually on social services related to gambling;
• The State of Wisconsin and local communities spend over $63 million annually on social and criminal justice costs associated with gambling;
• The American Insurance Institute identifies $1.3 billion in annual costs related to gambling and insurance fraud; and
• Bankruptcy rates in U.S. counties with casinos are 18 percent higher than those without casinos.
No matter what glowing promises the gambling supporters make about the benefits of gambling revenue, the problems that come along with the expansion of gambling always follow: devastated families, addictive behavior, increased divorces and suicides, drug/alcohol abuse, more organized crime, massive start-up costs, a big state bureaucracy, and a loss of income to community businesses.
Please tell your Texas Legislators that we do not want an expansion of gambling in Texas of any kind whatsoever – no race track derbies, no VLT’s, no racinos, no casinos.