Is anybody up for a casino in downtown Dallas? Mayor Laura Miller is, and she has said she would lobby the legislature to get one for Reunion Arena. It would be, she told the (ital) Dallas Morning News (ital), “a great shot in the arm for our city.”
The mayor’s enthusiasm for casino gambling apparently has grown out of her opposition to a deal with Ray Hunt, to whom the city would turn over the building in a land swap for a parking lot owned by his Woodbine Development Corp. near the Convention Center. The city staff is negotiating to sell that lot, combined with other nearby property, to Dallas City Limits for a $250 million entertainment complex.
Aaccording to reporter Dave Levinthal, it would “feature shops, restaurants, nightclubs, a health club, a concert hall and an outdoor arena,” plus, eventually, “an expansion south of Interstate 30 into the Cedars neighborhood along the Trinity River.” Here would emerge “an equestrian center, a horse-racing track with pari-mutuel wagering, a polo field, residential apartments and condominiums and a 4,000-seat indoor arena.” .
Dallas City Limits would pay the city $30 million for the parking-lot package, but in return DCL wants as much as $20 million (it may turn out to be less) for a tax increment finance district, and the mayor doesn’t like that. She doesn’t believe in it. That’s why she was at odds with Ray Hunt in another downtown deal that involved a tax abatement which was approved by the council.
The question is this: is she using the casino idea for Reunion Arena to block the DCL exchange? (Reunion would be destroyed by Woodbine.) Even if this is part of the picture, her proposal must be taken seriously. Would a casino be good for downtown? Bill Beuck of Dallas City Limits has said he doesn’t think so. He maintains his company has ruled out video slot machines for this project and does “not see casino gambling in this area.”
The astonishing thing is how many casinos there are around the country. They’re big in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, of course, but there also are casinos in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Scottsdale, San Diego and Seattle, as well as several near Denver. Some cities, such as Portland, Oregon keep them at a distance, as much as 80 miles away.
Many casinos, including three in Texas, are owned by Indian tribes some of which were so generous to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his pal from public relations, Michael Scanlon, that their gambling operations certainly will be reviewed with special care in Washington. Indian- casino revenues are staggering–about $16 billion a year, all untaxed.
Casinos have bloomed in Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, and it is their money, coupled with the fervor of religious forces, that has beaten back gambling in the Texas Legislature except for the lottery, race tracks for horses and a few for dogs. Casino owners in neighboring states like for Texans to rush across their borders to gamble, and they don’t want new competition in this state.
Chances are they won’t get any. Mike Sizemore, press spokesman for State Sen. Ken Armbrister, a Democrat from Victoria, said he’s not sure gambling legislation will be in the governor’s call for a special session on school finance, but he added that it would help fill the coffers if property taxes are lowered. He conceded, however, that video lottery terminals are more likely to be approved in Austin than casinos, and even VTL’s got nowhere in the last regular session.
Would a statewide referendum be necessary to permit casinos? Mr. Sizemore answered that there may be a way around it legally, but politically, a referendum could not be avoided. Still, Dallas Rep. Dan Branch, a Republican, expressed doubt that gambling legislation of any kind has a chance in Texas. “It’s not on any fast train,” he said.
That sounds just as well to me. Whatever the fate of Dallas City Limits, whose plan will be discussed again by the City Council within two weeks, a casino in Reunion Arena hardly seems the thing for the downtown many are working hard to achieve. Some casinos can be elegant, of course. But all too many are tacky, tawdry, and what’s worse, they’re a tax on the poor.
Dallas could use a “shot in the arm,” just as the mayor said. A new stadium for the Cowboys would have been wonderful, but that opportunity has passed. The arts facilities in development for the other end of town also promise a great deal. So does the project for the Trinity River. A casino, however, just doesn’t fit the style of Dallas, historically, aesthetically or morally.