Casino resorts and poker bill on the legislative agenda
Gaming legislation will again be on the agenda in Pokerati’s beloved home state of Texas — as it has been pretty much continuously since the days when “blue laws” prohibited us from shopping on Sundays. But this year Texas is friggin’ near-broke and public opposition to gambling is minimal, making hopes for passage of new gaming laws more promising.
A poll of registered voters taken earlier this month (conducted by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune) indicates 56 percent support full-on casino resorts in Texas, and fewer than 20 percent oppose any expansion of gambling or want to ban it altogether. A year ago, these numbers stood at 40 and 31 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are wrangling with one of the biggest budget deficits in the country and the need for contentious cuts to education, Medicare, veterans affairs, prisons … and just about every other department in an effort to close a budget shortfall estimated at $11-to-27 billion — bigger than any the state has ever had to face.
But before poker players get too excited about Texas’s economic woes going into the 2011 legislative session… with elevated hopes for gaming-law success (and fully legalized poker) also comes heightened opposition from well-monied morality-driven lobbies, and possibly cut-throat intra-ideological competition over whose bill gets the biggest push. And that doesn’t even begin to address the uncertain but possibly critical stake of the Chickasaw …
Still, licensed and regulated Texas gambling … saying no to it will be saying no to up to a billion dollars of economic stimulus. Whatever legislation does find its way through capitol halls will likely morph and merge and change in coming months — and Pokerati will do its best to keep you posted — but three bill-movers to watch throughout the session (and their preferred regulatory agencies) include:
Full Casino Resorts (Texas Gaming Commission)
This is the big prize with the most upside for gambling interests and state coffers — but also the toughest obstacles to passage. Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) has declared his intent to introduce a bill to legalize casino gambling in specified areas across the Lone Star State. A related bill already moving forward — HJR 28 — looks to establish a Texas Gaming Commission by constitutional amendment, opening the possibilities for resort casinos. A constitutional amendment requires “absolute supermajority” — meaning it must pass both the House and Senate with a 2/3 vote before being put to the public to approve.
Horse Track VLTs (Texas Racing Commission)
For more than a decade, bankrupt Texas horse tracks have believed that adding slot machines will save them. They still believe as much (just as they believe calling such devices Video Lottery Terminals somehow makes them more palatable to voters). Reliably informed sources tell us another “racino” bill is forthcoming. Already multiple municipalities with horse tracks have passed new laws allowing VLTs should such a bill (or something similar) go through. Corpus Christi, for example, did so by unanimous vote just two weeks ago.
The Poker(ati) Bill (Texas Lottery Commission)
The 2009 poker act — a poker-specific bill to license and regulate the state’s namesake game, Texas Hold’em, and other varieties of poker — made it further along in the political process than any other gaming bill (out of three) during the last legislative session … at least in part due to efforts of loyal Pokeratizens. Our good friend Rep. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) has re-introduced his poker bill — HB 382 this go-round — which has already been referred to the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures. Its current incarnation, HB 382 acknowledges poker as a game of skill, and therefore does not require constitutional amendment to pass.
Pardon any overhype of what is likely the smallest political stack in play gambling-wise this ’11 — it’s technically not even a “gambling” bill as worded. But Pokerati and its readers have played a role in Menedez’s legislation ever since yours truly and former Pokerati contrib Lavigne in Austin conceived of it back in ’06, mapping out a multi-session strategy at a 1/2 table in a Dallas poker room called Stagecoach. We succeeded in ’07 in getting the bill (HB 3186) on the House calendar, and in ’09 (HB 222) got it to the floor with necessary bipartisan support to pass … and without language imposing prohibitive betting limits … before GOP poker-yea’s got a last-minute directive to flip their position, prompting Menendez to pull the plug so the poker “movement” would live to see another session.
The bill has long since passed out of my hands — growing into something bigger than a little poker blog’s grassroots campaign — and may or may not be the specific piece of legislation that ultimately books the end result we all are presumably seeking: better poker for Texas. But that won’t stop at least one Texas poker expat from encouraging your support … you know, just so I can take credit should things go well and blame others if not. That’s how things work in
Washington DC Austin, right?
So that’s the quick glance at Texas in 2011. (As of this week.) We have a relatively tried and true poker bill … wheels are in motion for a full-on casino bill … and we’re virtually sure to see a long-fought-for racing bill. Sounds like political poetry to me:
The people want it,
a state needs it,
relevant municipalities are hungry for it.
All while special interests fight for pie (Lol)
what could possibly go wrong?
The Texas Legislature meets only every other year for 140 days — their most recent confab having begun January 11 … so we’ve got fewer than 100 days left for real gambling change befitting of Texas to happen.