Naked City

Republicans roll the dice on gambling

Back in January, state Republican leaders were either bluffing or extraordinarily clueless when they dismissed gambling as an all-but-dead issue at the Lege. Of course, popular wisdom holds that they were bluffing. Why else would there be 16 casino-related bills pending in various committees if one of them wasn't expected to make it out of the starting gate? What mattered most to the Republicans was that the chosen bill's sponsor have a "D" instead of an "R" next to his name.

To the rescue comes Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, whose most recently revised gaming legislation – HB 9 – appears to be the proposal of choice, borne out by the bill's low number and last week's addition of four co-authors, including Republican Reps. Terry Keel of Austin and Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, who also chairs the House Appropriations Committee. Both Pitts and Flores have filed proposed constitutional amendments that would put the gambling question to voters in November.

With everything falling into place on the gaming front (Flores' bill appeases both slot machine proponents and casino interests), the Texas Republican Party is fit to be tied. It had hoped to paint this as an immoral Democratic issue, but there's no getting around the fact that Republicans are betting on gambling to pay the bills. The party line remains the same, however. "We've been very clear that there is no wiggle room in the party platform on gambling," says state GOP spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester. "Even for funding education, we just think it's a bad idea." Moreover, she says, the party opposes turning gambling into a ballot issue. "The people of Texas quite deliberately put a Republican majority [in the Legislature] so they can make the decisions. That's what the people of Texas elected them to do."

Judging by the House playbook, it looks like they've decided to let voters decide. (Maybe the GOP should consider writing "political courage" into its platform.) Meanwhile, the state GOP will team up with other groups for an anti-gambling rally next Thursday, March 31, at 11am at the Capitol.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

slot machines, Kino Flores, Jim Pitts, Terry Keel, Sherry Sylvester, Texas Republican Party

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