Casinos coming to Galveston?

September 1, 2010 5:44:26 PM PDT
Business owners agree that gambling is what Galveston needs to help bring in more tourists. Over the past few years, state lawmakers have tried to push gambling in Texas, but it has always failed. Now, business owners in Galveston are standing united and want state lawmakers to hear what they think.

It's all part of a survey conducted by the Galveston Chamber of Commerce, asking local business owners if they support gaming. The results, as Eyewitness News discovered, are a bit surprising.

When the commerce asked the business owners if they supported it, they knew they'd get responses like Shlomo Hamo's.

"The economy is bad. Why send the money to Louisiana or Mississippi? We can handle it good," he said.

But officials admitted they never expected just how much support gaming had on the island.

"People definitely have strong opinions on gambling," said Victor Peirson with the Galveston Chamber of Commerce.

Of the nearly 500 commerce members who responded to the survey, 79 percent felt casinos in Galveston would help their business. That same percentage also felt the chamber should lobby lawmakers in Austin in support of gambling.

Allen Flores runs a successful bar on the Strand, and he's also a chamber member.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," he said. "There are a lot of cities throughout the United States where it's working great."

But gambling opponents were quick to point out the support was not clear cut. In fact, when asked whether the chamber needs to support a proposal which allows Galveston voters to have a say in size and location, support fell to 55 percent.

Well-known business magnet Harris ''Shrub" Kempner believes gambling would only hurt the island.

"Casinos make their money by attracting people to themselves and keeping them in the casino," Kempner said.

The chamber says the survey is only a jumping-off point, recognizing the challenges posed in Austin.

"If all the money is taken from the Galveston casinos to help in Austin and none comes back to the community, it's gonna be a net loss for the businesses here," Peirson said.

Around town, the debate continues.

"I don't know if it would help the population or anything," one resident said with whom we spoke.

"I just think it would be great for everybody -- the jobs, the service industry," another resident said.

The chamber says it plans to do more research. In fact, it plans to get some focus groups together with people for and against gaming. It plans to make its official stance by February of next year.


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