Not unlike lawmakers in midland states like Oklahoma, which last year passed an “education lottery,” or Kansas, which is considering expanded gaming to help its education budget, some Texas legislators are proposing gambling expansion to fill state coffers.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle have offered more than a dozen versions of gambling expansion bills this session?with backing from lobbyists, including one former staffer of Gov. Rick Perry, funded by Nevada gaming interests.

Gambling opponent Rob Kohler of Austin is betting gambling loses this session. But he’s not wagering on where the opposing votes will come from.

“I think it will be a real decisive issue,” Kohler told the TEXAN. “And that’s a byproduct of how when gambling raises its head in the legislature, it’s decisive. And there’s a lot of money on the other side and there’s a lot of money for some folks who stand to profit from it if this moves forward. I think it will really be, for lack of a better word, a gut check for the state.”

Kohler formerly served on the Texas Lottery Commission (TLC) and now runs the non-profit think tank Common Sense for Sound Public Policy, as well as a consulting firm. His arsenal of data includes numbers gathered from comparing Census Bureau information with lottery receipt tracking, that shows disproportionate lottery play by less educated and poor people.

Kohler told the TEXAN that, according to TLC numbers reported to the legislature this year, that lottery players with less than a high school diploma spent an average $173.17 per month on lottery tickets; players with a college degree spent $48.61 per month. The average black lottery player spent $108.96 per month, compared with $102.20 per month and $55.02 per month for Hispanic and white lottery players, respectively, Kohler reported.

Data from House districts in the Dallas and Houston areas show lower incomes and lower education levels correlated to more per capita spending on the lottery than in more affluent, more educated voting districts (See graphs, Page 7).

While some have touted increased gambling as a revenue source for child welfare funding, Kohler said such proposals are self-defeating because he believes data shows increased social costs?and more poverty?would follow.

Kohler said data gathered from eight independent studies show the average pathological gambler costs society $13,586 annually for problems related to his gambling addiction.

Kohler admits that few gamblers will become addicts, but the cumulative social costs?about $5 billion annually in the United States?are significant, he said.

Proponents, including the lobbying group Let the People Decide, claim a $3 billion to $5 billion budget shortfall will force legislators to consider increased gambling. The group is projecting an additional $1.2 billion a year in funding from proposed video lottery terminals and more than $2.1 billion if voters approve 12 casinos and related businesses, according to the Austin American-Statesman, which editorialized against increased gambling.

The projections are high, countered Kohler, who noted that it has taken 12 years for Texas to realize $36.2 billion from the lottery.

“For the state to realize that kind of revenue, $36.9 billion would have to be wagered in one year, Kohler added.

Kohler said he knows of no state government that has solved budget problems with gambling. Education, often the proposed beneficiary of gambling, is rarely served well either, he said.

“And it’s not long-term economic development. And it’s certainly not in the best interest of our state to have the folks who can least afford it pick up the difference in the budget deficit.”

Gambling proponents Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. and Big City Capital, represented by Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, are among those pushing for expanded gaming, the American-Statesman reported March 21. Kohler said his opponents have spent about $4.5 million to date.

TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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