Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Citizens are smart enough to decide issue
Texas is a strict state when it comes to gambling. Our state, born from the conflict and rough living of the frontier and Wild West, now has a tight set of limits on gambling. Our state allows the lottery and racing, but casinos and eight-liner machines with cash payouts are strictly forbidden.
Let Texans Decide, a campaign pushing to put the issue of casino gambling on the ballot, says Texas' current strict stance has allowed other states to profit at our state's expense. Casinos have sprung up right across the border in surrounding states, drawing about $2.5 billion a year from Texas residents who visit these casinos. In addition, the group says Texas' horse breeders are leaving the state to be closer to race tracks in other states where casino gambling supplements the races, creating higher purses for the tracks.
If casino gambling were available in Texas, Let Texans Decide says the economic impact would extend beyond simply keeping money in our state. The group also estimates adding casinos to racetracks could add 75,000 jobs and $8.5 billion in economic growth statewide.
All of these numbers look good on paper. Expanding Texas' economic prosperity by keeping casino patrons in our state is a good goal, but the main issue is not so much a question of dollars as it is of freedom. Texas is a state that prides itself on its respect for liberty and opportunity. So why should such a liberty-minded state avoid letting voters decide an issue such as casino gambling?
Texas loses so much money to neighboring states' casinos because Texas does not give residents the option of gambling in their home state. It seems ironic to us that a game such as Texas Hold 'Em, which is named for our state, is not legal to gamble on here. And much like prohibition encouraged a culture of crime around the smuggling of alcohol, a similar phenomenon is growing in Texas around illegal eight-liner gaming.
Just as our governor pushes for the federal government to stay out of business - both state and private - in Texas, citizens want the government to stay out of telling them how they may or may not spend their hard-earned money.
John Montford, a consultant for Let Texas Decide, says a lobbying effort funded by neighboring states that allow gambling is pushing to keep this issue off the ballot. If Texas voters approved the issue, their economies could lose billions of dollars when major casino companies come to invest and build in Texas, giving Texas residents somewhere closer to home to spend their money.
Montford is careful to stress this is not meant to be a fiscal cure-all for Texas' economy. Let Texans Decide merely wants to present this issue in a fair, clearly worded referendum on a ballot. The group believes the people of Texas are smart enough to decide this issue for themselves, and we agree.
We encourage the state legislature to give Texans a chance to consider expanding gaming. Our state prides itself on protecting the freedom of its people. By letting the people decide, Texas will be upholding that standard. Pass or fail, the people should be the ones to make this decision.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.