For two decades, whenever the great state of Texas found its finances in a bind, gambling proceeds looked like manna from heaven delivered in answer to the Legislature's prayers.
State lawmakers don't like to call it gambling, mind you. It's "gaming" -- as if the government coffers somehow expand when families get together to play Wii and Pictionary.
Those semantics games -- making what has traditionally been unpalatable a little easier to swallow -- will play out again in Austin beginning in January as proposals to expand "gaming" in Texas go before the 82nd Legislature. With the state staring at a $22 billion -- or more -- shortfall for the next two-year budget, industry lobbyists pushing everything from video lottery terminals to casinos hope to pick up votes as easily as Monopoly players pick up $200 every time they pass Go.
And what's not to like about a plan that would produce new revenue without raising taxes?
Plenty, if you're a Texas public school trustee. They've been on the losing end of the state-sponsored gambling since state Sen. Jane Nelson filed a bill in 1997 that earmarked lottery proceeds for K-12 education.
In 1991, when the state needed to close a nearly $5 billion budget shortfall, leadership at the state capital was united about allowing voters to decide whether Texas should have a lottery. They were confident that the answer would be "yes."
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