Texas Might Finally See the "Crack Cocaine" Gambling Its Citizens Seem to Love
Cathie Adams knows where she stands on slots. She's done the research. She's conducted the interviews. She's seen what can happen when someone finds his way to the bright, baubly machines from which casinos get a hefty chunk of their income.
"They're called the crack cocaine of gambling," Adams, president of the right-wing Texas Eagle Forum, told Hair Balls. "And if you can use credit cards instead of coins, they're even more addictive...Imagine having those in your state. Imagine having those in your neighborhood!"
Unfortunately for Adams, she may not have to imagine much longer. Because, as detailed in this week's edition of the Press, the Texas Legislature is currently debating a handful of bills that would bring the slots Mrs. Adams so loathes to one of the few states that still keep them illegal. And while some view the bills as a long shot for passage -- similar attempts at gambling expansion have been going on ever since the Texas Lottery was created in 1991 -- others see 2013 as the best bet yet.
But why? Why would something finally slip past Texas's guardians of morality, those pious bulwarks bent on protecting the weak-willed and the poor dying to get their hands on a quick fix? Why is 2013, with the state finally recovered from the Great Recession, the legislative session with the highest chance of success?
It's a fair question, and one that many didn't have an answer to. Some cited it as inevitability -- Texas is but one of a handful of states without notable gambling, and yet, for the sane among us, it's clear that the rest of the nation has not become a pit of immoral despair. "The race track in Hot Springs, [Arkansas] was in the ditch, really suffering a huge decline -- it wasn't able to compete against states offering other wagering products, and they got creative," says Bill Casner, a Texas-born horse trainer, of Arkansas's installation of slots on its racetracks. "Has Hot Springs' fabric of the culture of the morality gone to hell? Of course not!"
Some, meanwhile, look at the pure logic of it. Proponents of legalization point to the monies Texans annually hemorrhage for gaming -- $2.5 billion leaked to Oklahoma and Louisiana and New Mexico, carried on daily buses and cheap flights, subsidizing the infrastructure of states offering the kind of gaming Texans clearly want. The Austin-based consulting firm TXP released a study in 2011 showing that the state would generate $8.5 billion in economic activity should slots be implemented this year solely at the state's 13 licensed racetracks. Any further implementation -- say, within the Alabama-Coushatta's reservation -- is gravy.
And then there are those who see the 2011 budget hole still existent. Because, sure, 2013 has finally returned the state to sound footing fiscally. But the dents left by the 2011 crunch remain. Look at public education, for instance. Governor Rick Perry hacked $5.4 billion from the coffers in 2011, wresting nearly 11,000 teachers' jobs in the process. And while there's talk of reinstating a few billion, the state's still looking at a situation in which public education hobbles on, carrying the burdens of 2011 with it.
No one wants to strip the remaining billions from other programs and shuffle them to public education. No one wants a tax hike. And everyone, it seems, is in favor of letting Texans live as the freest, most independent folks in the nation.
Of course, much will have to happen for any and all of this to come to fruition. Any gambling expansion -- which the Texas GOP platform expressly forbids -- will have to come with the support of two-thirds majorities in both chambers and with consequent majority support from Texas's registered voters. Nobody's pretending any of this is simple or quick. Nobody's pretending it's a done deal.
But there's a certain sense that 2013 might be the best shot supporters have at allowing Texas to join the rest of the nation in its gambling proclivities. It could be little more than noise and bluff -- it's plenty easy to feign momentum when there's this much money at stake -- but this Legislative session could also see, for the first time in Texas's history, a chance for the state to retain the $2.5 billion it annually and freely ships elsewhere. And while some consider slots the "crack cocaine of gambling," others see them as the best bet to keep Texas moving forward.
Read "Doubling Down: Texas & Casino Gambling," this week's feature story.