After scrutiny from lawmakers and the public, the Texas Lottery Commission delayed plans last week to vote on proposed new bingo rules which would have brought electronic gambling devices to Texas, despite statutory and constitutional rules against the machines.

The commission was entertaining a package of rules changes which, collectively, would have morphed “pull-tab bingo” into a game resembling slot machines.

“Pull-tab bingo” is a game offered at bingo halls that is very similar to the scratch-off lottery tickets sold at convenience stores. In much the same way that scratch-offs bear little resemblance to jackpot lottery tickets, pull-tab bingo tickets have very little to do with the ink-stamper bingo game many of us are accustomed to. To play, a bingo hall patron purchases pull-tab cards for a set price. They then pull tabs off of the card to determine if they have won a hidden cash prize of a maximum amount.

The new rules would have done three things. First, it would have allowed players to verify whether their “pull-tab” card was a winner by scanning it with a machine (as if pulling a tab is overly strenuous). That machine would have been allowed to resemble a slot machine and contain many of the elements of video lottery terminals and other electronic gambling devices. Second, the rule change would have allowed for multiple plays per “pull-tab” card. Lastly, the rule change would have allowed players to maintain an account with the bingo hall that would not need to be cashed-out until the end of the day.

The collective set of rules would have allowed bingo hall participants to engage in a game eerily similar to slots. Though the mechanics would technically be different, the action would be the same. A player would deposit a certain amount of money, receiving pull-tab cards in return. They then would use the slot-machine-like device to examine the cards to determine if the card was a winner. The process would repeat over and over, complete with all of the bells, whistles, and lights that stimulate the typical slot machine junkie. When the player won, and was “up,” they would be able to use the funds to purchase more cards to submit to the enterprise until the odds caught up with them and they were broke or they decided to cash out.

Though the cards would technically contain the game, to the casual observer they would merely serve the function of bingo hall currency. Like tokens in a casino, the bingo hall patron would simply submit the pre-purchased cards to the machine instead of inserting coins are cash.

Setting aside the fact that this development has not been authorized by statute and the proposed new rules run contrary to long-standing constitutional and statutory prohibitions on casino-style gambling, the move towards more electronic gambling devices is a dangerous one.

The most frequent users of scratch-off and pull-tab gambling tickets are those with incomes in the bottom one-third bracket; the people who can least afford to squander income on games that are rigged against them from the beginning. This problem becomes exponential when electronic gambling devices are added to the mix. Las Vegas clinical psychologist Robert Hunter has noted that the rapid pace, ability to play for long periods of time, and mesmerizing effects of music and rapidly flashing lights involved with electronic gambling devices cause problem and pathological gamblers to “escape into the machine … like a trip to the Twilight Zone.” This led the National Gambling Impact Study Commission to quote Hunter in calling electronic gambling devices “the crack cocaine of gambling.”

Likewise, because of the highly-regulated nature of gambling, every increase in gambling revenue causes more money to be pumped into the lobby business as those who are granted gambling franchises seek to expand their operations while walling-off competition from entering the market.

For those Texans who understand the negative effects that increased gambling would bring to this state ­– both in the societal effects that come with increased destitution and the effects on government that come with creating a new highly-regulated revenue collector for the state – this issue deserves prompt and ongoing attention.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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