The Texas Legislature doesn't meet this year, but that hasn't stopped the growing pressure on state lawmakers for legalized casino gambling in Texas. Advocates are pushing lawmakers to approve a public vote on whether to allow casino-style gaming in the Lone Star State, arguing it would be a huge boost to the state's economy, tax base, and overall competitiveness. Detractors argue that the state's economy is just fine as it is, and that legalized gambling would bring a new set of "costs" related to higher crime and societal problems associated with gaming.
Among the biggest advocates of legalized casino gaming in Texas is the horse racing industry, which is getting hurt by the more lucrative race tracks in neighboring states like Louisiana and Oklahoma which allow casino gambling. Andrea Young, CEO of Sam Houston RacePark, says those states are able to use gaming revenues to offer bigger winning purses at their race tracks. "Quality horses are leaving Texas, along with the breeders and the farms, and the whole thing trickles down to even the guy that supplies the hay," she tells KTRH. "It's really not just an impact to (the race track), but it's a wider agricultural impact too." The biggest impact, she argues, is in jobs and economic growth. "Our estimates are that just slots at race tracks could create upwards of 75,000 new and permanent jobs, and that's in addition to the construction jobs," says Young.
As for criticisms about gambling's negative impacts on society and concerns about higher crime, Young notes that SHRP has had gaming for 20 years with no demonstrable negative impacts. Indeed, Texas is now just one of ten states that doesn't allow casino-style gambling, but Young says surveys show Texans are ready to decide for themselves. "80-percent plus--whether you're Democrat, Republican, Tea Party Republican--want the right to vote on this...it doesn't matter what stripe you are." Whether or not Texans get that vote will be up to lawmakers. "I think at this point, given that we've never seen this issue go to a vote, we probably should question some of our own legislators' motives," says Young.