Yesterday we told you about efforts by the Texas Lottery Commission to implement slot-machine-like electronic gambling devices in Texas by mutilating rules pertaining to bingo. Despite the unlawfulness of the Commission’s proposed actions, Commission Chairman J. Winston Krause pledged to “come back to [the issue] at a later date.” The Commission’s resolution to impose the machines on Texas might be attributable to behind-the-scenes efforts by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and his lobbyist allies. Straus’s family holds interests in race tracks and has long pushed for the ability to set up electronic gambling devices at those facilities.

At the Lottery Commission’s March meeting in which testimony was taken on the proposed rules to implement electronic gambling devices in bingo halls, lobbyist Steve Bresnen let the cat out of the bag on Straus’s legislative efforts to back the new machines. While Bresnen is most notable as the trial lawyer lobbyist behind Straus and the Texas Ethics Commission’s attacks on Empower Texans’ right to free speech, he has also been a long-time lobbyist for the gambling industry. Bresnen took to the podium to speak on behalf of the “Bingo Interest Group.”

While praising the new rules (though he still complained about the commission’s efforts to keep the machines related to bingo, lamenting that the new rules would not allow money to be deposited directly into the machines), Bresnen criticized other proposed rules as contrary to the legislative intent of a committee that may not have even been appointed yet. Specifically, Bresnen got ahead of himself, accusing the commission of acting “directly contrary to what the Legislature expressed in …” before pausing to note that “in a few months … there’s going to be a committee appointed that’s going to talk about ways that bingo can be more successful.

This comment seemed to tip Bresnen’s hand that he is working with Straus to appoint a select committee or at least give an additional interim charge to an existing committee to promote new gambling devices under the guise of bingo. This is apparently one of the “additional charges and initiatives” that Straus plans to announce in the coming months to “highlight his own priorities for the next session.”

Besides Bresnen and the companies that supply electronic gambling devices, the list of who all will benefit from the new rules is unclear. Straus may benefit by making electronic gambling devices more commonplace, thus making it easier for him to gain legislative authority to place the devices at his family’s race tracks. Likewise, because of the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Texas-based Indian tribes might gain new authority to place the machines on their reservations and in some areas beyond. The act allows Indian tribes to set up gambling in their areas to the extent that it is allowed for any other party within a state.

In fact, Indian Casinos got their start when the Seminole Tribe opened a high-stakes bingo hall on their reservation in Florida. Some states in the past have unwittingly allowed Indian Tribes to set up major gambling operations after passing laws allowing small charitable operations elsewhere in the state. The act is the reason why proposals to allow casino gambling in resort areas of the state are actually a Trojan horse which would allow the Indian tribes to set up that same level of gambling in areas of the state not authorized by statute.

Steve Bresnen’s exclusive knowledge of Straus’s gambling efforts long before the plans are released to the public reveals how closely the two are related. Perhaps this explains why Bresnen is so interested in attacking the free speech rights of Straus’ critics? We will be keeping an eye on the Lottery Commission and on Straus’ further interim charges to see what else develops in their quest to impose casino gambling on Texas. Casino gambling would be destructive to the growth of liberty and prosperity in Texas. We must remain vigilant of undue influence by the gambling industry on Texas government.

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.