It's time to amend the state Constitution to give voters a proper say
Every legislative session, the issue of expanding gaming comes up for consideration, and every session it becomes the target of inflammatory rhetoric, propaganda campaigns, and back and forth struggles among different factions until it stalls somewhere in the legislative process.
A dozen or more different bills may be offered, along with polls, sermons, editorials and heated testimony. But historically, gaming gets everything except the one thing that the people of Texas deserve — a chance for a statewide public vote on the issue.
As Texans, we can decide for ourselves how we spend our time and money. We like big sporting events, such as the Cotton Bowl and NASCAR. We like destination vacation attractions, such as the River Walk, SeaWorld and Moody Gardens. We like our fairs and rodeos and town festivals.
Some think legislators are under too much pressure from different interest groups to act objectively. But legislators don’t have to be for gaming to support a vote of the people.
We spend a lot of money on entertainment, and if what we want isn’t available here in Texas, we’re willing to travel to get it. With our relatively strong economy, our prosperity spills over into neighboring states, and we don’t spend that money grudgingly, even if we’d rather spend it closer to home.
At its core, this is an issue of personal freedom. It’s inconceivable that we would let government decide that we all have to watch football instead of baseball, or decide that we have to take our vacation at Schlitterbahn instead of SeaWorld, or pick what television shows we watch or what movies we attend. These are personal choices. If legislators tried to make them for us, we’d laugh them right out of Austin.
Yet when it comes to gaming, that free choice had been denied again and again in Texas. Government has reluctantly allowed us the choice of the terrible odds of a lottery, on which it profits, and the very limited opportunities offered by gambling on dog and horse races. They tell us where we can spend our money, what we can spend it on, and which select groups are allowed to benefit from it.
Consumers benefit the most when they have many choices available to them and a lot of competition for their entertainment dollar. This encourages lower prices and better quality of service. This is as true in the gaming industry as much as in any other business.
Free markets work, and a free market in entertainment would feature a wide range of choices, including varied gaming options. Businesses would succeed or fail based on their ability to attract and satisfy consumers. We would vote with our dollars. The best entertainment choices would prosper. Less appealing options would fall by the wayside.
Because of the heated political atmosphere surrounding gaming, some think legislators are under too much pressure from different interest groups to act objectively. But legislators don’t have to be for gaming to support a vote of the people. If they put the issue on the ballot, they don’t have to take any blame for the voters’ decision. They’ve been doing this for years with issues. It’s why we have almost 500 amendments to the state constitution.
Texans are the ones who will pay the costs and reap the benefits of legalized gaming. It’s clear that Texans are already engaged in the gaming industry, so why not let them be the ones to decide if we allow an expansion of the industry and what form it should take?
Put several options on the ballot. Let the groups on both sides of the issue make their case and educate voters. Let the people decide.
Dave Nalle is a former communications director for the Travis County Republican Party, and currently is national chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. This editorial opinion originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.