State Of Play: The Casino-less By Luke Haward December 15, 2014 at 6:41 pm The U.S. states which don’t authorize casinos can be put into two groups. There are those likely to remain without casinos into perpetuity, such as the staunchly anti-gambling Utah. Then there are those where allowing casinos has merely a long-shot, outside chance. In two cases these long-shot states are even famous for having their own form of gambling: Kentucky, with its Derby; and Texas, where it’s darn tough to find a legal way to Hold’em. With nationwide talk of casino saturation and venues closing in Atlantic City, the time may not be ripe for any drastic transformations. Despite this, there are a few changes in the air. Today we look at what movement toward casinos, if any, can be seen in the two key states of Kentucky and Texas. Kentucky Only once in legislative history has a casino bill passed in the Kentucky House, in 2009, when the Democrats put it through. After that, the Republican Senate quashed it. The bills keep appearing, however, with two pre-filed last winter for the 2014 session, one of which seeks a referendum on gaming expansion. Still, the heat seems decidedly off the issue. The horseracing industry has thrown cold water on the embers this winter, with KEEP (the Kentucky Equine Education Project) voicing its overall opposition to casinos in state for the first time. The industry is placing its bets on the Instant Racing innovation, begun in the state in 2011, to prop it up. While many states have opted for casino gaming and slots to support their ailing horseracing markets, and venues such as Churchill Downs continue to lobby for such provisions in Kentucky, the Instant Racing machines in that state have brought in new revenue estimated at between 20% and 50% of what slot machines would have generated. As many in the industry have said, this is still a welcome amount, far better than nothing. The only other movement comes from the Kentucky Lottery Corp., which has been pushing ahead with its own plans for virtual presence, requesting state permission to proceed with online proposals this year. The hope is for Powerball to be available by the middle of 2015, to be followed by further games. To his credit, Governor Beshear has honored his promise to work to bring expanded gaming to Kentucky. He cites the lack of success as due to the sheer number of disparate vested interests, which collectively have been unwilling to reach the consensus needed to carry political momentum forward. Texas First of all, it is not strictly true that Texas has no casinos. It simply has no casino culture. There is actually one casino legally operating in Texas, nestled out of the way on tribal land near Eagle Pass, near the Mexico border, 140 miles west of San Antonio. This is actually the only place in the entire state where you can play a real game of Texas Hold’em within a licensed venue: the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle casino. Still, the majority of Texans looking for a game tend to head out of state. One local organization campaigning for expanded gaming options in Texas, “Let Texans Decide”, estimates a loss of $2.5 billion to the state as a result of this “gambling dollar migration”. Regular efforts to chip away at the legislature’s staunch attitude against expansion are typically torn up before they get far. Still, for six years in a row a House Bill has been submitted (the most recent is HJR 47) which calls for the creation of a Texas Gambling Commission. HJR 47 proposes that racetracks and towns with populations over 675,000 be permitted, at the Commission’s discretion, to open casinos. The prospects for passage of this year’s bill seem slim at best. The State Lottery is taking a stab at installing some new gaming elements, seeking permission to run “electronic bingo pull-tab machines”. These would apparently do no more than confirm whether a pull-tab ticket was a winning one, offering no gaming action in themselves. The fear is that these would create a legal precedent, making it harder to prevent the emergence of real slots in the future. In any case, the legislature has refused to allow such machines several times in previous sessions. So for now, don’t expect any drastic changes in the namesake state of our favorite form of poker. If it’s any consolation, it’s tough to get a game of PLO in Omaha too!