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Casino Backers Betting on a Slow Economy

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By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

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Dallas, TX – North Texas lawmakers have filed legislation that would allow 12 casino resorts in Texas. Two could be built in Dallas County and another in Tarrant. KERA's Shelley Kofler reports those in favor and against are now gearing up for a fight.

The legislature has considered allowing casinos in Texas before, but gambling opponents have always prevailed.

Supporters say this time may be different because of the weak economy and a budget shortfall in Austin. Representative Jose Menendez is a Democrat from San Antonio.

Menendez: The need is now. I think we need to think about the fact that we are in a budget crisis and we need to be proactive.

Menendez is among the bipartisan group filing the casino bill. Republican State Senator John Carona of Dallas, and Republican Representative Jim Pitts of Waxahachie have also signed on.

If voters approve, their bill would allow up to 12 luxury casinos, each on 60 to 100 acres, with upscale hotels, shopping and amenities. The bill would also allow slot machines at dog and horse tracks like Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. And it would allow gambling on Indian reservations.

Backers say the legislation would raise up to $4.5 billion new dollars a year, and create some 300-thousand jobs. Some of the money would be used for scholarships and better transportation.

Gambling opponent, Suzii Paynter of the Christian Life Commission, says that may sound good, but this is exactly the wrong time to expand gambling.

Paynter: There is no state that can gamble itself back to prosperity. You would have addiction, bankruptcy and crime that would equate to about four times as much in cost to this area as anything that could be returned by the casinos.

The Governor's office says Perry does not support an expansion of gambling in Texas and doesn't think most legislators do either. But the Governor's office declined to say whether Perry would veto a casino bill if it landed on his desk.

Send E-mail to Shelley Kofler