Texas Racetracks Want To Add Slot Machines

Texas' ailing racing industry is planning an expensive gamble for survival – a $3 million campaign and lobbying effort to bring slot machines to the state's horse and dog tracks.

Texans for Economic Development, the umbrella group for track owners, breeders and other segments of the racing industry, has budgeted $1 million to contribute to campaigns in the 2008 legislative elections and $2 million for a lobbying effort to convince lawmakers that the tracks need slot machines to survive, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

It's a tough sell. State lawmakers have brought up the possibility of slots at tracks in the past, but all efforts have failed under opposition to expanding gambling in Texas. Proponents want Texas voters to decide.

Group president Tommy Azopardi said the $1 million will be targeted at about a dozen races in the state House.

"It's not about Democrats and Republicans, it's not about the speaker's race," Mr. Azopardi said. "It's not about anything other than, 'Are you for VLTs [slot machines] or not?' "

The effort is sure to run into the same opposition that killed previous efforts when the Legislature reconvenes in regular session in January 2009. Opponents fear something that could mimic casino wagering found in Las Vegas and other wagering hot spots.

"It's not economic development," said Suzi Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission associated with Texas Baptists. "It's pork to a few track owners. It's casino operators looking for a door into the state."

According to figures reported to the Texas Racing Commission, the state's seven major tracks are losing money, sometimes millions of dollars a year.

"The figures don't lie," Mr. Azopardi said.

The dog racing track in Corpus Christi is closing for a year, hoping the prospects for legislative help improve.

Mr. Azopardi said Texans should be allowed to decide the issue with a statewide vote.

"Until you let the people vote on this issue, it's not going away," he said.


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