Some question benefit of gambling in Galveston

September 3, 2010 9:24:36 PM PDT
A survey released this week revealed that a majority of businesses in Galveston would like to have gambling on the island. But there is some concern about whether that's what will be best for Galveston. Some people believe gambling would put millions of dollars into the local economy, but one expert warns that it's not that simple, adding another layer to this passionate debate.

A resident of Galveston for 30-something years, Ann Reeves is not shy about how she feels about gambling on the island.

"I'm all for it," she said.

Since Hurricane Ike, she's seen many problems, and she feels that gambling could be the solution.

"I believe that it could be good for the town," Reeves said. "Our economy since the hurricane has been really, really bad. We lost a lot of jobs. I think it'll bring a lot of good jobs back."

Casino gambling does seem to be gaining some steam, especially with the current condition of the state budget. However, a local expert warns it's not always a golden ticket.

"We have to go in and look at it with open eyes and not just dollar signs and 'ka-ching'," University of Houston gaming expert Jim Wortman said.

Wortman worked closed with the Atlantic City Gaming Commission. He says while gambling there drew millions of tourists and improved the economy, recently things aren't so good.

"Atlantic City right now is down about 20 percent," he said.

"I'm not sure the money that would come in would be dispersed among our local businesses," one resident we spoke with said.

Local lawmakers don't see the comparison, believing Galveston's economy is diverse enough to support many revenue sources.

"Casino gambling would not be the only thing going on in Galveston," State Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) said in a phone interview with Eyewitness News. "We've still got UTMB, thousands of employees, still have the port."

Tilman Fertitta owns businesses on the island and he says casinos could work, if they're done right.

"When you do full casinos that could compete against Vegas and anybody else," he said. "You don't do just slot machines and horse and dog tracks that only cater to a certain group of people."

Galveston residents voted against gambling the last three times it's been on a ballot. However, lawmakers now feel they may have enough support to get something passed in the next legislature.


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