Recapturing gambling dollars from LouisianaThe Sunday Business section in the Chronicle had a feature article on a new casino opening in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The casino is focused, as you might expect, on getting Texans, and specifically Houstonians, to cross the border to gamble (although, given some of the hard feelings from the last couple of years, the choice of a French name - L'Auberge du Lac - may not be the wisest branding move in this part of the country). Inserted in the middle of the article is a little commentary on Texas' hypothetical loss of gambling dollars to other states:
Heading out of Texas
Although certain kinds of gambling are legal in Texas, such as wagering at horse and dog tracks, the amount of entertainment dollars heading out of state worries some, including the Houston-based Sam Houston Race Park.
"This is just another example of Texas dollars flowing across the border to Louisiana," said Robert Bork, president and general manager of the race park. "We want the gaming revenue to stay in Texas and support education and tax revenues here instead of moving to our neighboring states."
A bill was filed earlier in the Texas legislative session that would allow video slot machines at horse and dog tracks, Indian reservations and at one location in each of nine areas around Texas. Bork said representatives from racetracks and breeding organizations are in Austin seeking support for legalizing video lottery terminals. Several other gambling bills have been filed.
Jordy Tollett, head of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that Houston is a city of millions, many of whom make a good living, so it's no surprise Louisiana gambling operators try to attract them. "We already know it is in the hundreds of millions that goes over there," Tollett said. "It is inevitable that someday we have to take a serious look. Is that something we should invest in later? I don't know."
What this simplistic thinking ignores is: How many dollars are currently spent in Texas on wonderful products, services, and amenities that would otherwise be sucked into the gaping black hole of the gaming industry if it were legal here? Right now, Texans have to be pretty hard core to gamble beyond the lottery or race tracks: essentially fly to Vegas or drive to Louisiana. That helps limit the amount disposable (and not-so-disposable) income in this state that is lost to gambling. If more extensive gambling were legalized here, that portion would almost certainly grow, meaning less disposable income available for other businesses and charities in Houston and Texas. The losses would be subtle and not easy to see, but they would most certainly be there.
If people insist on trying to recapture dollars lost to Louisiana, here's a simple least-harm solution: allow a few casinos in Orange, Texas. Almost the same inconvenience as going to Lake Charles - which minimizes lost disposable income - but people will stop and gamble before crossing the border, keeping the spending - and taxes - here.