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TX Sen. Gallegos' VLT Amendment Narrowly Defeated

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

No pink tennis shoes for Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville) today. And for Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) - close, but no cigar.

Nelson, who had promised to filibuster any bill that increased gaming in the state, did her licks in against an amendment to HB 3 by Gallegos that would add video lottery terminals (VLTs) to race tracks and Indian reservations in Texas.

"Are you aware Bob Bullock once called gambling a 'tax on stupidity?'" asked Nelson. "I believe it is a tax on stupidity. I believe it is a tax on the poor." She said those who argued earlier in the day during discussion on increased state taxes that an undue burden was being put on the poor "are exacerbating that."

Gallegos' surprising avoidance of a motion by Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) to table his amendment caught the entire Senate by surprise.

It followed Sen. Ken Armbrister's (D-Victoria) withdrawal of a similar amendment addressing the use of VLTs in the state.

Armbrister noted how other states are "taking our dollars" because Texas does not have VLTs. "This is a way to generate a tremendous amount of dollars," he said. Armbrister said in Louisiana, officials anticipate $9 billion per biennium from Texans spending money to gamble in their state. He said with 40,000 VLTs located at the nine existing gaming sites - three horse tracks, three dog tracks and three Indian reservations - each machine could bring in $200 per day. That would result in $2 billion per year.

"I respect the process here, and I have 16 votes," said Armbrister. However, he added, "I don't have 21 votes to help Chairman Ogden suspend."

Calling VLTs a "voluntary way to raise dollars," Armbrister reminded that "nobody is forced into one of these venues," but that Texans should have a choice. He said he is just trying to find another way to generate money to reduce property taxes in the state.

Armbrister promised to continue to work on the issue through the interim, to bring a "quality product" to the legislature next session that will answer other financial needs of the state. He said he is tired of seeing "recreation dollars going to other states." He then pulled down his amendment.

On the other hand, Gallegos pointed to polls in which Texans expressed their desire to have VLTs in the state. He said not only would they provide billions of dollars in new revenue for the state, but they also would create thousands of jobs for Texans.

"I've been listening to the debate all night," said Gallegos as he laid out his amendment, "and if you are for more money for education, if you are for more money that will reduce property taxes, you should be for this amendment."

Gallegos said at the dog and horse racing tracks in Texas alone, $1.4 billion per year in revenue would be generated.

Sen. Steve Ogden's (R-Bryan) motion to table Gallegos' amendment failed.

Before the up or down vote, Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) asked Gallegos where the VLTs would be located and Gallegos said at existing horse and dog tracks and tribal lands in Texas.

"We're not talking about downtown Dallas, Reunion Arena, West End or any of those places?" she asked.

"No," responded Gallegos, "but it allows for anyone to apply."

Upon questioning by Nelson, Gallegos said his amendment would not require a constitutional amendment even though the attorney general said previously that such legislation would. He said his response was based on how the bill was drafted.