Doubling Down: Texas and Casino Gambling

The Alabama-Coushatta want their casino back. The Texas horse tracks say betting on races isn’t enough. Both see expanded gambling in the state as their ticket to solvency.

Loblollies and vines drape and smother part of the former tourist facilities. A lone Big Thicket train lies dormant, corralled by unkempt undergrowth. The nearby campground, surrounding a calm cerulean lake, seems as empty as the rest of the reservation.

And Williams can only offer so much relief. He can only carry so much pride when describing the local government-store building. He can only force a smile when describing the temporary thin-sided houses planted beside the dirt roads. There is only so much he can do for his people.

Which is why Williams — along with the few nearby cities that still know the Alabama-Coushatta exist — is pouring everything he can into bringing the casino back to his land. Flying to Washington, DC. Trekking to Austin. Talking about forgoing a 2002 federal court-awarded $270 million (to the tribe for the historic loss of their land to the U.S. government) — not yet dispensed — just to reopen the small casino his tribe once maintained. Asking those he can to allow his people the business they once knew and for the fairness that most other states enjoy.

The tribe's entertainment complex now stands vacant, with dozens of security cameras monitoring the emptiness.
Daniel Kramer
The tribe's entertainment complex now stands vacant, with dozens of security cameras monitoring the emptiness.
Those who believe expanded gaming will help resurrect the Texas horse-racing industry include Houston-based Hal Wiggins, right, the former trainer of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
Courtesy of Hal Wiggins
Those who believe expanded gaming will help resurrect the Texas horse-racing industry include Houston-based Hal Wiggins, right, the former trainer of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.

Because if 240 other tribes across the nation can game and Texas can still allow a casino for the Kickapoo, why is it that the Alabama-Coushatta have to continue with a burned-out amphitheater and overgrown shacks? Why are they the ones who can't reap the benefits that hundreds of other tribes across the country now know?

"We were once told the Kickapoo lived under a bridge in little shacks, and now they're putting forward a $90 million renovation," Williams says. "It didn't only impact the tribal community — it impacted the surrounding community...Our casino gave us a sense of hope."

A bill has finally been presented during this legislative session that seeks to revive the Alabama-Coushatta's casino. And if certain observers are to be believed, and if the necessary steps are met, Houston could soon find itself with a full-blown casino just beyond its northeastern reaches. After all, if video lottery terminals, which some consider Class III gaming, are also legalized at local horse racetracks — another possibility during this legislative session — the Alabama-Coushatta could eventually petition to have their slots returned, along with whatever additional games they'd like.

Roulette and craps. ­Baccarat and poker.

"It's a basic issue of fairness," says Jim McGrath, one of Williams's advisers. "There's one tribe in the state of Texas federally recognized to game and another here that cannot. Before you even get into the economics, it's about basic fairness."
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Naturally, much has changed in Texas since the entertainment complex's closure. Awareness of the Alabama-Coushatta's casino — publicity for which existed only through word of mouth, according to Williams — has faded. People have moved on to other forms of entertainment; it's entirely possible that the casino's return would face an indifferent populace.

However, if Let Texans Decide, a lobbying organization dedicated to expanding gambling options in the state, is to be believed, Texans are as dedicated to the concept of gaming as they've ever been. Citing a formula that combines information provided by state gaming commissions and field research, Let Texans Decide, founded last year, says that Texas hemorrhages some $2.96 billion annually to neighboring states, with the bulk going to Oklahoma and Louisiana.

"Now, I'm not mad at those states — I think they're smarter than we are and that they're using a lot of Texas money to fund lots of programs," says John Montford, a former state senator and current spokesman for Let Texans Decide. "There's no way we can compete with them financially...They've contributed millions of dollars to the Texas Legislature, which is a whole lot more than they're contributing in their own states. My hat's off to them — they're very cleverly positioned to enjoy Texas's largesse."

While critics can paint Let Texans Decide's formula as a statistical head-fake — after all, the casinos, not the state, would take the lion's share of the profits — there's scant dispute that Texans are as susceptible to gambling as the rest of the nation. In addition to the numerous buses running daily from Houston and Dallas, there's little that better illustrates this financial osmosis than the parking lots at WinStar World Casino, in Thackerville, Oklahoma, and L'Auberge du Lac, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, packed bumper to bumper with Texas license plates.

"What just gets my gall is that when you drive to Louisiana, 75 percent of the people there are in Texas cars," says Hal Wiggins of Houston, who trained filly ­Rachel Alexandra, winner of the 2009 Preakness Stakes. "My blood gets boiling. It's gotten to the point where I don't even like to look at license plates."

The survey that Let Texans Decide cites actually paints a bleaker portrait — it claims that 90 percent of those frequenting the Oklahoma casinos carry Texas plates — but the point stands: While Texas remains one of the few states without any form of large-scale casinos, Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City continue to line their budgets with Texans' cross-border economy. Schools, roads, law enforcement — all that infrastructure, buttressed because Austin isn't willing to allow the kind of gaming many constituents clearly want.

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21 comments
JennyM
JennyM

It's just hard to believe that anyone would really want to stop the Alabama Coushattas from putting up a casino.  For crying out loud - the whole country is still wounded from the recession, and casinos definitely contribute to the economy of wherever they're located.  More to the point, if any Native American tribe wants a casino, why not?  This is still their country before it's anyone else's.

There is nothing in the Bible that forbids gambling, although there are commands not to cheat, oppress, steal, murder, etc.  So perhaps these "Christians" time would be better spent returning land to people cheated out of it, supporting tribal immersion schools to combat the effects of genocidal oppression directed against an entire race of people by the powers that claimed to be Christian (wonder what Jesus will say on Judgment Day in regard to the abuses perpetrated by workers at Indian boarding schools?).  Maybe instead of worrying about the speck in our neighbor's eye we should remove the log from our own - OOPS! - that seems to have been said a long time ago somewhere. 

seasincarnadine
seasincarnadine

Is there any way to see who in the legislature keeps voting against gaming and whether they themselves are taking campaign contributions fron casinos in OK and LA?  I imagine most of the self-righteous religious rhetoric is merely a hypocritical coverup for politicians that are shills for out-of-state casinos. 

Secondly, our state seems hell-bent on using "lower taxes" as a crutch to eviscerate the education system.  (Seems those on top have figured out that the best way to maintain social stratification is to keep the poor uneducated)  For Christ's sake, this would at least provide those leaders with one less excuse as to why "we need to cut teachers" or "kids shouldn't have to learn algebra". 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

We will have gaming inside Texas when the Choctaws and Chickasaws can have a license on their terms, which basically means no disclosure.

jazzyjanuary44
jazzyjanuary44

damn what is wrong with these crazy ass people...its time you have the damn lottery and shit ,is that gambling.

brian.zygo
brian.zygo

As a Baylor graduate who grew up Roman Catholic, the hypocrisy of the anti-gaming sources here in Texas remind me of an old joke about why you take two Southern Baptist friends when you go fishing instead of just one.

Ricardo Sanchez
Ricardo Sanchez

To approve lottery, we were assured that the revenue generated would finance the State's educational needs.It is now 2013 and it has done nothing to help out our state and our children. Allowing casinos in our state will only serve the money interests while creating more social problems which our society cannot handle.

aliberaltexan
aliberaltexan

It is time for casino gambling in Texas.  Good grief.  Are we stuck in a freakin' time warp?

Scott Hunter
Scott Hunter

You've had the lottery for years, taxes on alcohol for years, etc., etc. ... and now you need a casino to create jobs and revenue? What a joke.

Daniel Rex
Daniel Rex

It's not a tax unless you consume it or use it people.

Darrell Maxwell
Darrell Maxwell

We need to keep Texas money in Texas. It would bring in a lot of tourism. Create a lot of jobs. If you prefer church please go there. You too will benefit from the new income.

Scott Caffrey
Scott Caffrey

Doesn't make since to allow the revenue that is generated from Casinos to be taken out of state. People are going to gamble so the state should capitalize on it.

Dodd Melcher
Dodd Melcher

C'mon. From Houston all you have to do is drive two hours to Louisiana and back if you want to gamble. Less if you live in Dallas and drive to Oklahoma. Then Texas is still stuck with those poor gamblers, but without the tax revenue and additional jobs.

Semeon Butters Risom
Semeon Butters Risom

Whataburger and chick-fil-a are a tax on the poor. Legalized gambling should be brought to Texas. It would bring huge revenue back to the state.

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter

We should not have full-on casinos here in Texas, but I would legalize Texas Hold "Em for Texas bars.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

Why do we allow Southern Baptist fucks to travel to NM, Lousyanna, & Oklahoma in order to satisfy their gambling lust?  Let the light of day shine for all.  Can you say hypocrite?  It is time Texas has gambling casinos and all forms of betting including a betting pool for those on Death Row.  Oh, I nearly forgot.  I nearly forgot about the Hammer or Wild Thang. Tom "I ain't done a day in prison" Delay.  I smell vermin in the air.

Anse
Anse

I'm not surprised that folks are not eager to legalize casinos. They're sleaze magnets. But I suppose they're no filthier than a gas refinery, so who cares? Just keep 'em isolated and out of the way and let folks do what they want. 

quinnolivarez
quinnolivarez

The fact that gaming isn't easy to come by in Texas is really alarming. While a little off topic, suppose a resort featuring gaming opened in Galveston. It would instantly be a major revenue-generator for the city, and like the article mentions, would keep the tax revenue that comes from gaming in-state. From what I understand, the bill on gaming at horse tracks also would potentially make poker legal in such establishments, as well as bingo halls. This would be a coup

JennyM
JennyM

@seasincarnadine 

1. I'd wager on Cornyn.

2. Surely you're not suggesting that the Haves give up a whole dollar now and then in taxes for programs benefiting the Have-Nots!  Downright un-American, that.

 
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