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The Associated Press
AUSTIN, TX—MARCH 17, 2013—A group promoting legislation to legalize casino gambling is dialing down its ambitions for this session of the Texas Legislature.
Let Texans Decide had cast its lot with efforts for full-blown legalization of casino gambling in Texas. Now, the group led by former state Sen. John Montford is pressing only for allowing slot machines at horse and dog tracks, an objective the group promoted in the 2011 Legislature.
“This was the position we originally took. I do believe that this is a reasonable approach,” Montford told the Austin American-Statesman for an article in Saturday’s edition.
Any expansion of gambling in Texas would require approval by two-thirds of the Texas House and Senate, as well as a majority of the state’s voters. A brightening budgetary picture for the state has sapped the incentive for expanding gambling to increase state revenue, leaving advocates of expanded gambling to focus on existing legislation to allow video lottery terminals at racetracks. Proposals also would allow games of chance on certain American Indian lands.
Support has been growing among Texas House Republicans for allowing residents to vote on allowing slot machines at tracks, Montford said. A measure to allow slots at tracks has been assigned to the Texas Senate Finance Committee.
And if pending court appeals force the state to find more money for public education, a special session of the Legislature may be needed. Then casinos are “more optimistic for serious consideration,” John Pitts, a lobbyist for several large casino interests, told the American-Statesman. The traditional forces of opposition are waiting. Rob Kohler, consultant and lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of Texas Baptists, said an amended objective won’t help the Montford group expand gambling. Indeed, “it doesn’t improve the chances of any piece of legislation passing,” Kohler said.