Galveston Voters Go To Polls Again on Casino Issue
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) _ For the third time in four years, residents vote on a referendum to allow casinos, with the opposition saying approval could return Galveston to the days when illegal gambling and prostitution flourished.
But Galvestonians for Economic Development, the pro-gambling group that initiated a petition to bring the issue before voters Saturday, speak of the jobs and money such an industry could bring to this tourist-oriente d island city suffering high unemployment.
The contest has been a feverish, complete with phone banks, rallies and an advertising war.
″It’s been very divisive. It’s a decision between two entirely different choices for the future of our city,″ said H.L. ″Shrub″ Kempner Jr., co- chairman of Galvestonians Against Casino Gambling.
″It is a question of whether we become contaminated by the casinos ... in terms of trashing our town or whether we move on toward other ways of developing our economy,″ Kempner said.
The non-binding referendum asks voters in this scity of nearly 200,000 residents to approve a gambling district that proponents say will consist of four casino hotels with at least 500 rooms each.
Voters rejected legalized gambling proposals in 1984 and 1987. But gambling promoters say last November’s statewide approval of pari-mutuel horse racing signals a change in attitude that will be reflected in voter approval Saturday.
They also are optimistic that proposals to limit the size of the district and earmark a percentage of its proceeds to benefit the elderly will help win support.
″It’s similar to ... pari-mutuel gambling and bingo and lots of other things in state of Texas that had to be attempted several times,″ said Pete Fredriksen, chairman of Galvestonians for Economic Development.
Both sides admit that polls show voters evenly split on the gambling question, with about 10 percent to 15 percent undecided. The winner may well be decided by which side gets the highest turnout.
The referendum, if approved, would require the passage of similar legislation in the state House and Senate before returning for a binding local-option vote.
Rep. Lloyd Criss supports the casino district, while Rep. James Hury, a former Galveston County district attorney, opposes it. State Sen. Chet Brooks, meanwhile, says he is duty-bound to introduce the legislation if it passes.
Law enforcement officials also have joined in the debate.
″When we study what’s happened with casino gambling in other locations, we see a tremendous amount of street crime and we also see organized crime’s involvement with casinos,″ said County District Attorney Mike Guarino, adding that tax benefits would be outweighed by the increased demands on law enforcement and courts.
But Fredrikson dismisses such speculation.
″I keep telling them, ’Guys, you’ve been watching too many ″Godfather″ movies,‴ he said.
″We believe that these casinos would be an economic tool to expand our economy. The estimates are that they would create 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and put over $600 million on the tax rolls here,″ Fredrikson said.
Galveston’s unemployment rate this year has ranged from 11 percent to 8.9 percent, according to the Texas Employment Commission. Its 9.7 percent June rate compared with nearby Houston’s 7.7 percent, and ranked 21st out of 27 metropolitan areas in the state.
Galveston became a haven of crime and vice in the 1950s before a government crackdown ran casino and slot machine operators out of business.