As I covered in Gambling Do You Believe Me Now by Donna Garner.
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?
Now Out today…….
The quiet formation of a special Texas Senate subcommittee to consider a controversial casino gambling resolution has sparked a behind-the-scenes fight that could affect passage of the state budget and school finance legislation .
Three senators said several colleagues have discussed the possibility of voting against the state budget, amid the questions. They did not want to be identified because those discussions were private.
“I’m afraid that this gambling issue is being raised and it could hold the schoolchildren of Texas hostage so the gambling interests can get their issue passed,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “I am fully prepared to talk about this issue for a long time. \u2026 It would really be wrong to use gambling money to finance public education in this state.”
Five senators confirmed Monday that the new panel formed Thursday by the Senate State Affairs Committee to hear a gambling resolution by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, quickly triggered concerns from GOP senators about whether the move was a prelude by proponents of casinos to shoehorn the issue into legislative discussions about how to pay for Senate-proposed changes in financing public schools — expected to cost about $4 billion more than the House version.
The formation of subcommittees in the late days of legislative sessions is a rarity. The current session has less than two weeks to go.
State Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said he named as chairman Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who headed a similar panel on gambling during the last legislative session. Members named were Sens. Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Mike Jackson, R-La Porte; Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; and Eddie Lucio Jr. , D-Brownsville.
Deuell said he was planning to set a hearing for Wednesday on Ellis’ Senate Joint Resolution 34, which proposes a constitutional amendment to allow casinos and slot machines by licensed operators and some Indian tribes to provide funding for property tax relief and additional financial aid for college students. Lucio is a co-sponsor.
The measure, if approved by voters, would create an agency, the Texas Gaming Commission, to regulate gambling in the state.
It was filed by Ellis on March 3 and was assigned to the State Affairs Committee on March 16. There has been no action on it since then.
Ellis said Monday that he has withdrawn his request for a hearing, leaving the new panel with nothing to do.
“I can see the handwriting on the wall,” Ellis said. “I don’t think this is the right time to try to advance this. I can see I don’t have the votes.”
Deuell agreed that the panel was unlikely to approve the resolution and send it to a vote by the full Senate. A majority of the panel opposes casinos and slots, he said.
“Judge Roy Bean said, ‘I’ll give him a fair hearing and then hang him,’\u2009” Deuell said. “I told (Ellis) I’d give it a fair hearing.”
But several Republican senators said privately that they remained wary.
House leaders have suggested in recent days that voters’ approval of gambling could raise as much as $3 billion in additional revenue for the state.
State Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, the committee chairman who moved a gambling bill out of committee days ago, said in the Houston Chronicle on Saturday that while there is no interest in gambling in the House at the moment, support could build later — perhaps in a summer special session, as members look for more nontax revenue.
Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, chairman of the House Calendars Committee, which schedules bills for debate, seemed to agree, according to the Chronicle. “I think gambling is still alive because it’s a revenue measure, and, as the budget process is alive, so is any revenue measure.”
A watered-down gambling bill to allow slot machines at racetracks and Native American reservations moved out of Hamilton’s House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee earlier this month. It would not permit casinos. But the bill wasn’t heard on the floor by the deadline for House bills to be debated.
Several senators suggested Monday that if the school finance issue is split from the state budget and addressed during a special session this summer, they fear that gambling could be brought in as a way to pay for the additional money needed for public schools.
And they said they fear that the formation of the subcommittee and the increased discussion of gambling in recent days are hints of that.