Gambling could serve as source of revenue

Freedom New Mexico

Gambling proponents once again are hoping that this will be the year Texas lawmakers finally allow gambling enterprises to establish themselves in the state. The issue could help reveal just what kind of “reform-minded” candidates were elected to the legislature in November.

Expanded gambling opportunities (limited pari-mutuel betting already is allowed in the state) have been proposed for the past several legislative sessions, and polls consistently show that a majority of Texans approve of the idea of allowing more gambling, from casino games to off-track betting. The idea hasn’t made it past conservative lawmakers.

The state Constitution must be amended to allow gambling. That means two-thirds of each chamber in the Legislature must approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would then be put to the voters statewide.

Rio Grande Valley officials have long supported the idea, since they see South Padre Island as a prime location for a resort hotel and casino. In fact, Cameron County already has inked a provisional deal with an investment company to build such a facility at Isla Blanca Park if such an amendment were to pass.

A recent poll, however, suggests that the idea faces a tough battle this session as well. The Dallas Morning News sent questionnaires to all lawmakers; 115 of the 150 House members and 24 of 31 senators responded. Fifty-four representatives and 11 senators replied that they would oppose any legislation to expand gambling in any form in the state. Because of the two-thirds rule, 51 votes in the House and 11 in the Senate would keep a proposed constitutional amendment off the ballot.

It’s unknown how firm those legislators are in their positions. Once the session begins on Tuesday and they struggle with the biennial state budget, some might reconsider gambling as a possible new source of revenue.

This is one issue that could help us determine just what kind of representatives we elected in November. Hard-core right-wingers traditionally oppose gambling and other “sinful” activities, but many new Republican lawmakers are professed tea partiers, whose professed primary interest was fiscal frugality and smaller government. If they truly hold the libertarian ideals that voters assumed they had, then they should be just as beholden to social liberty — the right of self-determination. That would include the freedom to use one’s money however one wishes, without supposed moral mandates and restrictions imposed by the government.

In other words, a lawmaker might believe that gambling is sinful, but recognizes that each person has the right to commit sins, as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. At the very least, they would allow the people to decide the issue by supporting a constitutional referendum.

If a significant number of new “tea party” Republicans are social as well as fiscal libertarians, then the dynamics of state lawmaking could change. Proposals to allow people to spend their own money on games of chance could be one issue in which those dynamics will become evident.