At a sendoff reception for Rio Grande Valley’s legislative delegation, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Cynthia Sakulenzki expressed her desire for the legalization of casino gambling in Texas.
Chamber president’s request was not on chamber’s agenda
Texas commercial casinos are currently outlawed. Because of that, scores of Texans travel to casinos in neighboring states.
Sakulenzki urged support of the expansion of gambling in Texas during a sendoff speech to state Valley delegates ahead of the 2023 session of the Texas Legislature.
During the speech, Sakulenzki paused for dramatic effect, and a roar of laughter erupted from the audience.
“We definitely don’t need people going to Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and leaving their tax dollars there, when they could be spending it here at our hotels and our restaurants.”
Chamber Vice Chairman Richard P. Sanchez admitted that legalizing gambling was not on the chamber’s legislative agenda. He said the board of directors would have to vote to add it to the agenda.
Sakulenzki said her request for support was personal. She would like to see gambling expanded while making it a safe form of entertainment. She is looking to “create a very professional entertainment option for Texans” and also visitors.
The Valley encompasses the deep south of Texas
The Rio Grande Valley, also known as The Valley, is located deep in South Texas. The Gulf Coast of Texas, the Rio Grande River and the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, border the region.
Counties in Rio Grande Valley include:
The Valley is known for its hot temperatures. It’s a popular destination for retirees across the US, and also citizens from Canada. The region’s delegation for the 88th Texas Legislature is made up of three state senators and eight representatives.
- Judith Zaffirini of Laredo
- Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen
- Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island
- Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City
- Armando Martinez of Weslaco
- Sergio Muñoz of Mission
- Terry Canales of Edinburg
- Oscar Longoria of La Joya
- R.D. “Bobby” Guerra of McAllen
- Erin Gamez of Brownsville
- Janie Lopez of San Benito
Illegal game rooms are havens for crime and corruption
The gambling laws in Texas are complex, to say the least. Gamblers are technically allowed to play machines, and owners are able to own and operate them. It becomes unlawful when machines or game room owners pay out money to people gambling in their establishments. Any prizes given must be low in value.
According to the Texas Lottery Commission, the state has up to 150,000 illegal slot machines that generate an estimated $1.9 billion annually. The circulation of money filtered through these illegal game rooms leads to an increase in crime, corruption, abuse of drugs and weapons. However, some towns have opted to craft game room ordinances that carefully navigate the law.
Legalizing gambling in Texas would create safer environments for patrons and owners alike. A likely result of a successful campaign would decrease crime around gaming.
Communities and the state of Texas overall would also greatly benefit from regulating a billion-dollar industry.
Whether the efforts of those like the president of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce make a difference remains to be seen.