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Texas horse-racing advocates tout the benefits of slot machines at racetracks

February 24th, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Published Wed, Feb. 04, 2009.

AUSTIN — Legalizing slot machines at Texas racetracks would generate a multibillion-dollar windfall in Texas and would pave the way for a major expansion of the 13-year-old Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, horse-racing officials said Tuesday. 

A study released by Texans for Economic Development, an organization representing the horse-racing industry, projected a statewide economic boost of up to $6 billion and 53,000 new full-time jobs across all sectors of the economy, generating about $1 billion a year in tax revenue.

"It would help us tremendously," said Drew Shubeck, president of Lone Star Park. If the Legislature approves a slot machine bill, the park would start a $100 million construction project to build "new and more glamorous facilities" housing 2,500 to 3,500 video lottery terminals, he said.

"It would be a tremendous boom for the city of Grand Prairie and the Metroplex as a whole," Shubeck said. "We would definitely see an addition to the main grandstand or possibly a whole new stand-alone facility."

Texas racetracks are pushing to install slot machines to reverse an economic decline that has seen gambling dollars flow to neighboring states.

"We know for a fact that Texans are spending billions across the border, and we would like to recapture some of that money," said Mike Lavigne, a spokesman for Texans for Economic Development.

Horse-racing interests hope that the potential benefits in tax revenue could help persuade cash-strapped lawmakers who are trying to find ways to fund existing services and possibly new initiatives. The Legislature has $9.1 billion less in available revenue than it did at the start of the 2007 session.

Gambling opponents have raised fears that advocates might have an edge during this session because the family of House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has ties to Retama Park, a San Antonio horse track. But Straus has said he will stay out of issues in which he or his family has business or personal interests.

Over the last 10 years, an estimated 50 percent of thoroughbreds and quarter horses in Texas have left the state because of declining purses. Billions of dollars in gambling and tourism money is also leaving the state as Texans go elsewhere to place their bets, industry officials say.

In 2007, according to the racing industry group’s study, Texans spent $2.8 billion on gaming and related activity in surrounding states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

About 40 percent of Louisiana’s gambling revenue in 2007 came from Texans, as did 22 percent of New Mexico’s, according to the report.

"We want all this to flourish in Texas," Shubeck said.

If slot machines were legalized at racetracks and American Indian casinos, the study suggests, Texas could reclaim $1.8 billion in revenue lost to other states, plus $1 billion in related spending. Economic ripple effects would generate an added $4 billion throughout the state, the report said.

But opponents say that gambling supporters cannot get the votes necessary to pass a bill legalizing casinos or slot machines.

"We don’t think they stand any more of a chance this session than the last," said Rob Kohler of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Plus, Gov. Rick Perry remains "opposed to expanding the footprint of gambling," said spokeswoman Allison Castle.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
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One Response

  1. I think that the people of Texas should have a vote as to whether gambling is allowed. We already have gambling with the Lotto and Bingo parlors. So what is the big deal? As far as, Baptist are concerned I think that you would surprised at the number who make regular trips to our neighboring states to participate in the activities. Jesus did not try to make laws or force folks to follow him and his beliefs. He educated and allowed people to use their choice as a guide to his teachings. You cannot make people worship and I suggest you would be better to use your time spreading the gospel instead of lobbying to change laws.

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