The state legislature won't convene for another couple of weeks but, as we've noted previously, the biennial push to legalize gambling in Texas is already well underway. With that push comes the flood of money to grease the legislative machine.
Already, gambling interests have poured in nearly $1 million in advance of the 2013 legislative session, according to the San Antonio Express-News:
Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, found that gambling interests donated $1.6 million to Texas political action committees and candidates going into the 2010 elections.
TPJ, in a check of reports available for this year, found top gambling PACs from 2010 donated more than $904,000 this cycle. The total included only reports covering up until eight days before the election, so the total is sure to be higher.
According to Let Texans Decide, the Chickasaws and Choctaws, which have Oklahoma casino operations, have given Texas candidates five times as much as they gave Oklahoma candidates since 2008 -- more than $807,000 in Texas compared to nearly $152,000 in Oklahoma. The Chickasaws also have invested in a Grand Prairie track.
Let Texans Decide, backed by Penn National Gaming and the Sam Houston Race Track, is the group spearheading the push to legalize gambling. In recent weeks it's been dropping tidbits of news -- for example about "unchecked crime" at underground game rooms -- to bolster its central argument, which is that Texas is losing billions to surrounding states by continuing to bar gambling. Figures cited by the group predict that legalizing gambling would bring $8.5 billion in economic activity and $1 billion in additional tax revenue.
Those arguments, being trotted out for the umpteenth legislative session, are familiar. So are those in opposition: The revenue estimates are overblown, a repeat of the grand promises that came during the push to allow pari-mutuel betting at horse tracks; that relying on gambling as a revenue source is unconscionably regressive, since it generally attracts poor people; that gaming is a social ill that Texas shouldn't countenance.
The legislature has always sided with the opponents and shows no sign of changing track. Tommy Williams, a Republican state senator from the The Woodlands who chairs the Senate's Finance Committee, told the Express-News there was little chance that any new proposal will pass either chamber, particularly given the freshman class of legislators, who are very conservative. That won't be for lack of trying. Or money.