VLT Provision Fails to Muster Support in Texas

by Raymond Whelan

Unless the Senate revives interest in the concept soon, it appears the Texas legislature will not legalize video lottery terminals at the state's five horse tracks and three Greyhound tracks.

After much debate earlier the week of May 3, the House of Representatives voted 75-68 on May 5 to approve a bill for a sales tax increase to raise more revenue for public schools. However, the majority went thumbs down on a proposal from Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf, chairman of the House Education Committee, to establish VLTs as another funding source.

The rejection came despite predictions from officials who said the machines would generate nearly $2 billion for the public schools during the next three years.

As the special session of the legislature continues in Austin, the House-approved bill now goes to the Senate chamber for review, where some political observers said VLTs are also doomed to failure.

The Texas Horsemen's Partnership, the Texas Thoroughbred Association, the Texas Agri-Industry Council, and other groups have banded together for several months to support VLTs to boost purses and make Texas racing more competitive with neighboring states that already have the machines.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry endorsed VLTs and other money-raising measures to help Texas support its public schools in April, just before he ordered the legislature to meet in special session and develop a new school finance plan.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Carole Keeton Strayhorn, also a Republican, called for the state to adopt a VLT last year. Yet, much of the opposition to VLTs in the House comes from Republicans. Indeed, the Associated Press reported one cluster of Republicans released a letter May 3 asking Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to "withdraw this idea from consideration."

Texas has operated a state lottery since 1991. But according to the Texas Republican platform, "The party continues to oppose government-sponsored gambling as a means of financing state government. Government-sponsored gambling has had a devastating impact on many Texas families."

Last September, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared voters must approve an amendment to the state constitution before the state lottery commission would receive the OK to implement and operate VLTs. Thus, even if the Senate writes a bill to allow the public schools to collect proceeds from expanded gambling, many experts believe VLTs will fail again, because 100 votes would be required from the House to place the issue before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment.