Herman: House committee OKs major gambling expansion

Ken Herman

| Austin American-Statesman

A Texas House committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to create what could be the biggest expansion of state-run gambling since then-Gov. Ann Richards bought the first Texas Lottery ticket (a loser) in May 1992 at an Oak Hill feed store.

The proposed addition (casino-like, critics say) could provide big bucks for the state via the powerful and popular combination of gambling and alcohol.

We’re talking about what Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, calls “Quick Draw” lottery in his House Bill 817, which was advanced by the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas, which opposes gambling, calls it Keno and says it’s a casino game and that means it would take a constitutional amendment, approved by the voters, to legalize it in Texas.

Whatever you call it, Texas bingo halls want in on it if it happens.

What Moody wants to add would mean up to 15 drawings per hour beamed to establishments with Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission licenses. FYI, bars now are barred from selling Texas Lottery tickets. Though this change would be a big deal, Moody tried to downplay it.

“This is a traditional lottery game where numbers are drawn several times an hour and displayed on television monitors,” he told the committee, adding that versions of it have been lucrative parts of state lotteries since 1991, and that the game is now played in 21 states and has generated $15 billion in revenue for states.

“It’s revenue that we don’t see here in our state,” Moody said.

The number was so big that Committee Chair Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, asked about a letter: “Did you say billion with a b?”

“In those 21 states,” Moody replied, “15 billion.” And he said the Texas Lottery Commission believes the rapid-draw game would produce about $300 million for Texas public schools over the next five years.

“The revenue is significant enough that I think it does deserve our consideration this session where we are scrapping and trying to find every bit of funding that we can, not just for our schools but for all of our other issues,” Moody told the committee.

He also said participating bars and restaurants could see increased revenue of $3,000 per week as a result of increased traffic drawn by the gambling opportunity.

Under questioning from Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth and a restaurant owner, Moody said Quick Draw drawings would take place “anywhere between 12 and 15 times an hour.” Yes, that’s quick. And players would choose how much they want to wager per game. The Lottery Commission would set the rules.

Steve Bresnen, representing the bingo industry, called Quick Draw a “good idea” that some bingo halls might want to get in on, but would not want to seek the TABC license needed to qualify to offer the game. Bresnen said he’ll work with Moody on that as the legislation advances.

Rob Kohler of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas urged rejection of the bill. He preferred to refer to it as a casino game.

“Members,” he said, “this is Keno. … You know it’s Keno. This is not a traditional lottery. If it was a traditional lottery game we’d have been doing this 30 years ago.”

“We talk about a few drawings an hour,” Kohler said. “But this bill allows a drawing every four minutes, over 285 drawings a day. Keno in this state is a Class 3 casino game and you require a constitutional amendment.”

When he was done, Thompson had a question: “How’s your family?” Kohler reported that “Everybody’s great.”

Thompson also had a question for sponsor Moody: “We don’t need a constitutional amendment for this, would we?”

“People sue over various things,” Moody said, “but I don’t think so.”

With that, and with nary a nay, the committee sent the gambling bill to the full House.

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