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The Texas Lottery: Closer, But Don’t Bet On It

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The next legislative session is six months down the road, but politicians from Dallas to Donna are already rehearsing their speeches denouncing a state income tax as a solution to the net-tlesome problem of declining state revenues. So far, one of the most talked-about solutions to an anticipated $1.3 billion fiscal deficit is a state-run lottery, an idea some Texas pols feel could offer a quick multimillion-dollar shot in the arm for the sickly state budget. To date, some twenty-three states have turned to lotteries to boost revenues.

Legislation calling for a lottery was introduced last session. but never gained any steam. However, this session will be different, says state Senator Hector Uribe of Brownsville, because lottery backers have begun assembling a well-funded lobbying effort. Uribe says he’ll introduce a bill in the Senate calling for a statewide referendum to authorize a Texas lottery.

State budget officials estimate that a lottery could net the state about $170 million as early as 1989, and that revenues could reach $634 million by 1992- figures that Uribe calls “very conservative.”

The pro-lottery forces face a long uphill battle. Texans have consistently rebuffed efforts for parimutuel wagering, the state leadership has yet to support a lottery, and the church lobby is promising a bloody fight. “We don’t think it’s good public policy for the state to involve itself in an activity that creates a vested interest in making losers out of 99 percent of its own citizens,” says Weston Ware, an associate director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. “What you really have in a lottery is the state as super-bookie. It’s a sleazy way to run the state government.”

“I respect a person’s moral views,” counters Uribe. “But the polls show that 67 percent of the public supports a lottery.”

But state Senator John Leedom of Dallas disagrees that a lottery would be a revenue boon for the state. “There’s no wealth created by a loltery,” he says. “You gain on the one side and lose on the other. For instance, the sales tax will suffer when people spend money on the lottery they’d normally spend on things like clothing or appliances. The only real way for the state to solve its problems is to increase its productivity.”

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