An Austin, Tex.-based developer has plans for an RV casino resort in the state’s planhandle, but there’s a problem: Gambling is illegal in Texas.
Developer Barry Keenan hopes to construct a $100 million facility at the intersection of Highway 86 and I-27 near the town of Tulia about halfway between Amarillo and Lubbock, the Amarillo Globe-News reports.
Senate Bill 507 introduced in the last state legislative session to allow casino gambling got nowhere. The issue may come up again if a special session to consider school financing convenes in March or April as predicted, said state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo.
Keenan was unavailable to comment but his project manager, Jodi Jackson, told the newspaper the RV crowd is what prompted him to want to build the casino resort.
“He’s been involved in casino development for over 14 years. He’s done the research with the numbers.”
Jackson said thousands of RVers travel I-27. “Our plan is to have an upscale RV resort complete with a full-scale, Las Vegas-type casino.”
Keenan’s plan calls for the facility to be privately owned and he’s not asking for any incentives such as free land, loans, grants or tax relief.
Jackson said plans also include a restaurant row that will feature a couple of nationally known eateries, and the rest will be local. Casino gambling would require a constitutional amendment, Smithee said. An amendment must pass the state House and Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be approved by a majority of voters in a statewide election, he said.
Voters made a constitutional exception to allow the lottery. They could do the same for casino gambling.
“It’s far-fetched,” Smithee said, “but in a budget situation, the Legislature could look at gambling as a revenue source. Financial problems make people do strange things. I never thought there would be a lottery.”
Even if the state legalizes casino gambling, casino organizers must obtain a license and voters must approve a casino at the local level.
Tulia residents spoke out in recent editions of the Tulia Herald, the city’s weekly newspaper. Opponents fear a casino would bring moral decay, crime and ultimately lower the quality of life. Supporters say the economic uplift would save the town from dying and give its young people a reason to stay.
A meeting involving casino planners and county residents is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Tulia High School auditorium.
Most Tulia residents favor the proposal, said Herald publisher Chris Russett.
“The mood of the people in the coffee shops and barber shops is probably 80-20 or 90-10 for it,” he said. “Those who are opposed are more vocal.”
“It’s still a big gamble at this time,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the game because if it does pass, the big players (casinos) will all be coming to Texas.”