The future of gambling in Texas - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

The future of gambling in Texas

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It's a billion dollar industry, but legalized casino gambling has yet to make it's way to Texas.

"All gambling is illegal in the state of Texas, unless there is a statute that specifically authorizes it," said Kevin Sims, owner of Saddle Brook Jockey Club in Amarillo.

Those statutes allow the lottery, paying to play bingo and participating in sweepstakes or raffles. But the major issue of debate, revolves around casinos.

State Representative John Smithee says the chances of casino gambling becoming legal are against the odds. "The Texas constitution has a provision that goes back 100 years that prohibits gambling in Texas so, gambling is not something that the legislature could pass if it wanted to without voter approval," Smithee said.

He also said it would need at least a 2/3 approval in both legislative houses, and a constitutional amendment would be necessary. "It's going to be very difficult to ever get gambling legislation to pass.The big problem over the gambling interest over the last few sessions has been the fighting among the interest," Smithee added.

Fighting, that is keeping almost everyone divided. "They should let the voters decide whether or not it's a good idea," said Sims.

But opponents to legalizing casinos, like Howard Batson, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Amarillo, says it's a serious decision the legislature should seriously look into before making any decisions. "I think the legislature needs to think long and hard before they subject the people of the panhandle, or the great state of Texas to all the seedy underbelly that comes with something like gambling," Batson said.

Sims says there is a potential that legal gambling will bring money to the Lone Star State. "Not only does it include gaming revenue and tax revenue, it includes benefits for the hotels, food and beverage restaurants and so fourth," he said.

Studies by the Texas Gaming Association show $3 billion a year leaves Texas in the pockets of people going to gamble in surrounding states. But Smithee says even if there were casinos here, most of that money would still leave our state. "Most of the economist say the actual projections on that will be fairly minimal because people tend to want to just get away from home and a gambling attraction is a place to go," he said.

But it's not just the money that's causing debate over legalizing casino gambling, it also has a lot to do with ethics. "The people that are fearful that gambling or wagering in any shape or fashion is going to be a taboo thing and bring in a criminal element, we've been here a year and they haven't hear a peep out of us," Sims said about Saddle Brook Jockey Club.

However, opponents fear if larger facilities come to Texas, so will other problems. "We end up with organized crime, we end up with prostitution. Drugs seem to come into the picture, so the idea that gambling can come to the Panhandle and help pay a lot of our bills and not cost us anything is simply naive," Batson told us.

According to the poll on our website, 86 percent of you said yes, you do believe casino gambling should be legal, while 13 percent say it should not.

Colleen Nelson - NewsChannel 10