Could gambling boost Galveston's economy?

November 14, 2008 5:03:35 PM PST
The impact of Hurricane Ike has led to massive layoffs at UTMB and Galveston's economy overall has taken a big hit over the last two months. Now, some say a roll of the dice could give it a boost.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Many are proposing the idea of bringing gambling back to the island city. But, not everyone believes that will be the right way to get Galveston's economy on track again.

This proposal is not new. It was tossed around in the 1980s and we're told it was quickly shot down. But now, after Hurricane Ike, some people are taking it a bit more seriously.

With shops still struggling to return to business, and the island's only hospital facing huge layoffs, Galveston residents are torn, wondering if gambling is the right solution.

"Right now the island needs this," said Galveston resident Margaret Lindsey. "It would need the income coming back in, especially with the Strand wiped out."

Galveston resident Stephanie Thomas disagreed, "I think it brings the wrong kind of people to Galveston. I want this to be a real city again, not just a tourist town."

But at least one business owner is ready to put his chips in, if it means the city will recover more quickly.

"I think the future of Galveston really is going to depend on the plans we're making now," said Allen Flores, owner of Boomba Ultra Lounge.

Flores is the president of the Strand Merchants Association. He is trying to raise support for high end casino gaming. He believes with the additional tax revenue brought in by casinos, taxpayers will have less of a burden.

"What we're looking for is to try to create critical mass and a lot more people coming to Galveston," Flores explained.

Gambling would be not new to Galveston. In the 1940s, the Balinese Room, known for its A-list celebrities, had it, although it was illegal. Vic Maceo, whose family once owned the Balinese, believes, if regulated, gambling could be the way to go.

He said, "Gambling is not going to be the fix-all, but it's certainly going to be another attraction for Galveston."

But not everyone is thrilled by the idea of casinos on the island.

Reverend Ray Meador of the First Baptist Church of Galveston told Eyewitness News, "Economically, it will not work. Politically, it will not work."

Rev. Meador says gambling won't only bring the wrong element, economically, he says, it's just not smart.

"If they're talking about jobs to take the place of UTMB, it won't be the quality of jobs that UTMB had," he said.

Still, with the island very much in recovery mode, the gambling proposal is stirring new interest. Galveston native and well-known businessman Tillman Fertitta would gamble on gaming, only if it was done right.

"Would it be great for tourism down there? Absolutely," Fertitta said. "And if the legislature decided to do it, I would only want them to do it in a first class way, where it was done and it would bring tourism from nearby states."

Ultimately, it will be up to the Texas Legislature to decide whether or not this proposal would pass. A spokesperson for the City of Galveston told Eyewitness News that the council has not decided one way or another whether to support gambling.

Right now, commercial casinos aren't legal in Texas. According to the American Gaming Association, 12 states nationwide have commercial casinos. But Texas does have at least one tribal gaming parlor. It's in Eagle Pass.

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