March 3, 2009 (InfoPowa News) — It looks as if 2009 will be a
busy year for the legislature and the courts in the state of Texas as
moves to expand or liberalize gambling shape up. Starting the year off
is the reintroduction by Representative Jose Menendez of HR 222, a bill which seeks to acknowledge poker as a game of skill rather than chance, therefore liberalizing its pursuit.
 
In 2007, the Texas legislature tried and ultimately failed to pass a
bill legalizing poker in Texas and Rep. Menendez has accordingly
introduced a new bill, HB 222 “The Poker Gaming Act of 2009″, for the
upcoming session. Full details on the bill can be found at
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs…l/HB00222I.htm, but it is
intended that taxes raised will be dedicated to assisting the homeless
in the state.
 
There are set limits on tournament buy-ins at $100, and restrictions on
rake confining it to 10 percent and a maximum of $4 a hand, although
operators can levy an additional $1 a hand to fund bonuses, jackpots
and promotional activity. There are stiff regulatory proposals.
 
Turning to the courts rather than the legislature itself is an
initiative by a Dallas-based lawyer who has filed civil suit naming the
state and the city of Dallas in an attempt to secure a declaratory
judgement.
 
Citing “uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status and
other legal relations” regarding live poker, and the deleterious
effects of such uncertainty on his Pick-Up Poker business, lawyer David Tucker is hoping for a ruling that will enable him to move forward with more assurance.
 
Tucker’s concept is to lease fully furnished and equipped poker rooms
to private individuals and parties. And he’s betting on the way the
venture is structured to get things moving and legally acceptable.
Players make deposits with the firm and are given chips with which to
play in “cashless” competitions. When they are done, players can get
refunds on their chips.
 
Taking a wider view, Business Week reports that for the second time in
recent years, a serious drive is afoot in the Texas Legislature to
legalise [land] casino wagering – a move that, if successful, would
mean trouble for neighbouring Louisiana riverboats and race track
casinos that have cashed in on Texas gamblers since the ‘nineties.
 
Texas lawmakers have proposed the establishment of up to 12 casinos
with retail, meeting and entertainment infrastructures. The measure
also would allow slot machines and horse and dog racing tracks in
Texas, along with casino gambling on Indian reservations.
 
For Louisiana such a competitive scheme could be disastrous — 70
percent of the state’s business comes from the Lone Star State.
 
Business Week reports that big tax revenue projections made by
supporters of the proposals border on the ludicrous, along with the
appeal of new jobs in a recession.
 
Texas backers estimated that 12 state-licensed casinos would pull in $3
billion to $4.5 billion per year in state and local tax money.
 
“That’s an impressive figure — provided it would ever pan out,” opines
Business Week. “According to the American Gaming Association, casinos
in the 12 states where they are legal, pulled in $5.8 billion in taxes
– with $3.7 billion of that coming from five states: Nevada, New
Jersey, Louisiana, Indiana and Illinois.”
 
That opinion is backed by at least one gambling expert, who noted:
“They are really deluding themselves about the revenue projections.
Three to 4.5 billion a year? That’s just a fantasy. Texas is an
intriguing state but I don’t see them neutralizing the entire gaming
industry nationwide.”
 
There may be problems raising the necessary capital for such ambitious
projects in the currently depressed credit markets. As Business Week
points out: “Although the recession might increase the appeal of
legalising casinos in Texas, the downturn also is making it difficult
for the industry. In some states – excluding Louisiana thus far –
revenue is declining. Nationwide, though, it’s the lockdown of the
credit markets — and the virtual lockout of the casino business.
 
“At least three major casino building projects have been halted in Las
Vegas, representing about $33.5 billion, while $11.6 billion in
projects outside of Las Vegas have been put on hold. The New Jersey
casino group once owned by Donald Trump is in bankruptcy protection for a third time, buried in debt.
 
“Last month, Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., which says it’s bullish on Louisiana, won delays from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board on
development schedules for riverboat casino-hotels in Lake Charles and
Baton Rouge. Pinnacle officials said that even if they could find
credit, it likely would cost the company 15 percent to 18 percent in
interest.”
 
Finally there’s the determined opposition of religious right groups
that have strong influence in the state of Texas. Tough opposition has
been promised by Baptists and social conservatives, who killed an
earlier move toward casinos. And Governor Rick Perry seems cool
to the idea, which would have to be approved by a public vote on a
constitutional amendment, with splits already emerging between casino
and race track interests.