Renee Raven, a DJ for Lubbock rock station FMX 94.5, visited Oklahoma and watched Texans happily dropping $20 bills into Sooner slot machines. Now, the Texas DJ has joined the chorus chiding the state’s anti-gambling stance.
Three states bordering Texas have legalized gambling. Many of their venues are fueled by Texas dollars. But no state benefits more than Oklahoma. Two of the country’s largest casino resorts are frequented by Texans, who spill billions of dollars into the state’s economy.
Raven expressed her frustration about seeing so many Texans gambling in Oklahoma in an op-ed. Her observations highlight what many have been saying for a long time: Texans gamble a lot, and it’s neighboring states that reap the rewards.
The problem is, spending isn’t reciprocal
Raven noted that “No Oklahomans are spending gambling dollars in Texas because virtually no one is.”
Texas currently has three tribal casinos. Two of them, Naskila Gaming in Livingston operated by the Alabama-Coushatta of Texas tribe and Speaking Rock in El Paso operated by Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe, offer nothing more than bingo.
The third, Lucky Eagle on the Texas/Mexico border operated by the Kickapoo Tribe, offers table games and slots. But it sits in one of the most remote parts of the state.
As a result, none of the three draws much traffic from neighboring states.
Conversely, Texans spend close to $3 billion annually in Oklahoma casinos. That’s according to an analysis by Clyde Barrow, political science chair at the University of Texas-Rio Grande. That number accounts for the majority of gross gaming revenue collected in the state.
Lots of Texans working at out-of-state casinos
And it’s not just money flowing to neighboring states. The state is also exporting jobs to those casinos as well.
More than half of all employees at Choctaw and Winstar, Oklahoma’s two tribal mega-casinos, come from North Texas. Workers make the roughly 160-mile round trip commute every week.
Once you consider Texans gassing up and staying at hotels in neighboring states on gambling trips, the amount of tax revenue lost by Texas is staggering.
The imbalance also impacts the regions close to the north and east borders, especially Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. They think they are “out of touch” with other regions of the state where casino gambling is simply not an option.
Social conservatives drive anti-gambling views
Raven cited a comment made by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a staunch legal gaming opponent. He stated that “gambling legislation will probably be unsuccessful due to the issue being fraught with ‘competing interests.’”
She questioned those “competing interests,” and her cynical tone suggested the illegitimacy of the idea. To provide some clarity about competing interests, we can look first at the largely conservative moral framework baked into the Texas Republican Party’s platform.
“We oppose any expansion of gambling, including legalized casino gambling. We oppose and call for a veto of any budget that relies on expansion of legalized gambling as a method of finance.”
Religious opposition informs the Republican platform, and it is – usually, but not always – the social conservatives who represent the anti-gaming political block. The idea of “problem gambling” and the focus on seedy eight-liner game rooms dominate this position, suggesting that legal gambling would pull people off the straight and narrow.
There is also a position put forth by conservative lawmakers, notably Comptroller Glenn Hegar, that the Lone Star State is doing better than expected. As a result, the state budget really has no need for the revenue Texas gambling could bring.
Texans pride themselves on their independent spirit. It’s difficult to imagine that even if Texas produces a deficit in the next fiscal year, that the state would admit that it needs gaming revenue to save it.
Circling back to Oklahoma
The scene of Texans happily pumping their hard-earned money into Oklahoma slot machines is certainly a cause for confusion and dismay. It takes a political concoction of pride mingled with dogma to downplay or even ignore the fact that it’s happening.
Which it is.
Texans are spending billions, with a “B,” in neighboring states. Considering what that revenue could do for any number of social services, it’s hard not to view the current state of affairs as a Texas-sized disappointment for the state.