Facing an uphill battle to amend the Texas Constitution to allow video slot machines, some Texas lawmakers are working on legislation to authorize the devices as an extension of the lottery.
Such a bill would only require a majority vote in the House and Senate and then the governor's signature. A proposed constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers and then a vote by the public.
Mike Sizemore, a spokesman for Sen. Ken Armbrister, said Armbrister is trying to determine whether a ballot proposition is required for video lottery terminals. Sizemore said Armbrister, D-Victoria, may draft a VLT bill that does not require a constitutional amendment.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, filed a bill last week authorizing VLTs at horse and dog tracks, Indian reservations and yet-to-be-determined locations in nine regions of the state. Turner also filed a constitutional amendment that would place the issue on the ballot in November.
Turner said he thinks video slots should be voted on by the public. He said to try to do it without changing the constitution is "inviting a court challenge."
"Ultimately as we move to this new step, the people of the state of Texas ought to have and should have the final say," Turner said.
His legislation, House Bill 897, would require the slot machines to be actively linked to and controlled by the Texas Lottery Commission's central computer system.
Since the lottery was approved by voters in 1991, some lawmakers have argued that video lottery terminals linked to the Lottery Commission would merely be an expansion of the lottery and not a new form of gambling.
However, two attorney-general opinions have rejected that legal theory. The most recent came in September 2003 when Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that when voters approved the lottery, they did not contemplate slot machines.
Asked about the issue Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry would not say whether he would sign or veto a bill authorizing slot machines. A proposed constitutional amendment cannot be vetoed.
"I really hate getting into the position of telling you what I would sign or what I would let become law without my signature or what I would veto without actually seeing it on my desk," Perry said.
He said that philosophically he thinks it would be better to have the issue decided in a ballot proposition.
"It's hard for me to tell voters they don't have a place in the process," Perry said.
Perry supported VLTs during last year's special session on school finance as a way to help fund education. In the wake of strong opposition from the Texas Republican Party, Perry has backed away from the issue.
"As the economy improves, I think it gets harder and harder to pass through the Legislature. ... I think finding 100 votes (in the House) is going to be a really tall (task)," he said.
As he did last spring, Perry said legalizing video slot machines would cut down on the illegal eight-liners, over which the state has no control and realizes no revenue.
"I'd like to find a way to substantially restrict the amount of (illegal) gambling that's going on in the state of Texas, and VLTs appeared to me to be a way to do that," he said. "We've got this rampant amount of eight-liners that are being used in the state, estimates of upwards of 140,000-plus machines. They're not regulated. The state receives no benefit from them."