VLTs Still Uncertain as Texas Session Concludes

by Raymond Whelan

As the most recent special session of the 78th Texas legislature came to a close, the fate of video lottery terminals appeared to be rather uncertain.

As lawmakers decided the week of May 17 to leave the state capitol in Austin after weeks of debate over public school finances that began in late April, one proposal by Sen. Kenneth Armbrister to allow the operation of VLTs was pending in the Senate Finance Committee. The proposal calls for an amendment to the state constitution to permit nearly 35,000 VLTs at casinos, tourist resorts, and at the state's five horse racetracks and three Greyhound tracks.

The Texas constitution requires two-thirds of the legislature must approve any amendment before voters can consider it. Months before Gov. Rick Perry called legislators into the 30-day special session, the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, the Texas Thoroughbred Association, the Texas Agri-Industry Council, and other groups claimed VLTs would boost handle and purses and make Texas tracks more competitive with neighboring states.

Also, many officials said proceeds from VLTs would provide the public school system with nearly $2 billion during the next three years. However, a majority of members in the House of Representatives blocked a provision to support VLTs as they passed their public school finance reform bill to the Senate May 5.

After several days of discussion, the Senate announced May 17 it had failed to hammer out an agreement on the public schools issue.

Perry has voiced support for VLTs as a new source of revenue for public schools. During either the upcoming summer or fall, political observers now say the governor will call for another special session to solve the public-school finance problem. Perhaps then, the Armbrister proposal or another VLT resolution will resurface.