There once was a time, not too long ago, that the Texas Legislature seriously considered legalizing casino gambling in the state. There was even a proposal on the table to convert the Astrodome into the world's largest gambling casino, and big money from casino interests flowed into Texas in hopes of making Texas the next Nevada, with casinos on every streetcorner.
Boy, how times have changed.
The only bill in the current session that would even hint at making even a minor expansion of gambling was savaged in a State House Committee on Tuesday, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The measure would legalize what is called 'Historical Racing,' and allow Historical Racing terminals to be installed only in existing parimutuel horse and dog tracks, like Retama Park in Selma.
'Historical Racing' allows players to place bets on horse races which have already taken place. Bettors see the last four seconds of a random horse race on a screen on a machine, which many opponents said looks to them suspiciously like a slot machine.
But the measure received scathing comments, like from anti gambling activist Roger Weems.
"The only connection to racing is a small screen that projects the last three and half seconds of a prior race," Weems said. "If the experience of other states holds, that screen can even be eliminated, so this plays exactly like a slot machine."
Jennifer Hughes of the Kickapoo Tribe in Eagle Pass, which operates a popular casino along the Rio Grande, also told the House committee that 'Historical Racing' is in fact a back door way to legalize slot machines.
"The Constitution does not prohibit parimutuel wagering, but instant racing is not parimutuel wagering," she said. "Instead, Historical Racing machines are essentially slot machines, which are prohibited under the Texas Constitution."
Groups representing charity BINGO operators also shouted down the proposal.
The Texas Racing Commission last year legalized Historical Racing as a way to help the state's struggling parimutual tracks, but a court overturned that ruling, on the grounds that the machines are actually thinly disguised slot machines.
Several factors have contributed to the troubles facing casino gambling across the country, a collapse with is most clearly seen in the closing of major casinos in Atlantic city.
The expansion of casino gambling on riverboats, on Indian Reservations, and in other specific locations have taken the lure out of major casino operations. We have also seen a rise in new types of gambling, from sports games like 'FanDuel' to the extremely popular offshore Internet gambling operations, to state lotteries. In addition, the slightly villianous lure of the casino in the seventies and eighties, when American suburbanites got a thrill out of rubbing shoulders with mob bosses, has not carried over into today's Millennials and Generation X-ers.
The Historical Racing bill was left pending in committee where it is expected to die.