This commentary originally appeared in The Austin American-Statesman on September 9, 2014.
Horse racing often captures the public’s imagination in the spring as yet another horse seeks to be the first Triple Crown winner in almost 40 years. Yukon Willie’s Gold Rush, an instant racing slot-like machine that shows three-second clips of old horse races, doesn’t quite rise to the same level in most people’s minds.
Yet when they voted to approve gambling on instant racing — wagering on a previously run horse or greyhound race — at race tracks recently, most members of the Texas Racing Commission had no problem imagining that slot machines are what Texans had in mind when they approved pari-mutuel racing at the polls in 1987.
Gambling is illegal in Texas unless approved by the Legislature. Only bingo, pari-mutuel wagering and the lottery have received legislative authorization. That is why — until now — we haven’t had casinos or race tracks with slot machines, black jack and roulette.
Gambling proponents have pushed hard over the years to get the Legislature to expand gambling, aided by proponents of more government spending who claim we need additional revenue. While the Legislature has stood firm against opening the state up to more gambling, state agencies have been more willing to go along.
In April, the Texas Lottery Commission attempted to allow bingo halls to use video slot machines to determine whether “pull-tag tickets” are winners. After considerable input from legislators questioning the commission’s authority to make such a decision, the commission decided to “defer” the decision.
Refusing to do likewise, the Racing Commission moved forward by approving its proposed rule on instant, or historical, racing. Even though it received plenty of input.
A letter from 15 members of the Texas Senate noted the problems with the commission’s rulemaking: “These rules appear to be an attempt by the Racing Commission to circumvent the Legislature’s authority to decide what types of gambling are and are not legal.” One state representative even filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the adoption of the rules.
None of this seemed to matter. The commission decided on its own that slot machines fit under the category of pari-mutuel wagering.
Though agencies like this one need to be brought under control, the bigger issue is that Texas shouldn’t expand gambling through any means.
Texas does not need the revenue gambling proponents claim it would produce. Raising revenue to keep up with government spending gets it backward. Instead, Texas should keep government spending equal to — or below — available revenue. This approach of “living within one’s means” is simple and common sense, and is in fact the same one that each Texas family puts into practice every day.
Additionally, there is ample data from other states that the hidden costs of gambling may largely offset any predicted benefits. Costs associated with gambling include lost government revenue from other entertainment industries, increased costs of law enforcement and lost jobs from decreased spending on non-gambling goods and service.
Finally, gambling laws in Texas are anti-market. Gambling as it currently exists in Texas is conducted only by state-authorized economic cartels.
Texans don’t need more gambling. What we need is a government responsive to our calls for adhering to the rule of law and reducing its interference in our daily lives.
Peacock is the vice president for research and director for the Center for Economic Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation; email@example.com.