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 Legal Gambling Worsens Illegal Betting, Report Says

Task force urges crackdown on eight-liners

01/28/99 Dallas news Associated Press AUSTIN –

The problem of illegal gambling in Texas is being compounded by the spread of legal wagering, according to a new report. After 16 months of study, the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling issued its finding Wednesday, calling for a legislative crackdown on "eight-liners," devices similar to slot machines that have proliferated as a result of ambiguous state law. Underlying the gambling problem, according to the report, is Texas' relatively recent retreat from bans on all forms of gambling. The state lottery is exacting "substantial social costs," the report said. Texans, the task force said, have bought into a "national trend toward accepting gambling as a revenue generator for states rather than treating it as a crime to combat." Since the 1980s, Texas has created the lottery and legalized pari-mutuel wagering on horse and dog racing. "The proponents of gambling have largely succeeded in persuading the broader culture to accept gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment rather than a vice," the task force said. "The impact, from a fiscal perspective, has been enormous." Without quantifying it, the task force said the downside also has a large bottom line, especially at the state's multibillion-dollar lottery. "Its substantial social costs, however, while actual and acknowledged, have yet to be accurately measured," the report said of the lottery. Gov. George W. Bush appointed the task force in 1997 after lawmakers failed to approve a Bush-backed bill aimed at ridding Texas of eight-liners, which have spread across the state by the thousands and brought in millions of dollars.

Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, the task force chairman, told the Austin American-Statesman that he will offer legislation again this year to ban eight-liners. The 1997 effort died amid concerns from two groups: veterans and other organizations that depend on the machines for revenue, and operators of kids' arcade games that also could have been made illegal. Although many law enforcement officials believe eight-liners are illegal under current law, some prosecutors say the current law is ambiguous. The Amusement Music Operators of Texas, an organization whose members include operators of eight-liners, also wants the law clarified. "We believe they are legal," said group spokesman Joe Cutbirth. "But that's the Legislature's call. The Legislature wrote the law, and we believed in good faith the law made them legal. If the Legislature no longer believes they are legal, it needs to step forward and say so," Mr. Cutbirth said. He said the group's primary goal is a clarification "that will let honest, taxpaying business owners operate in good faith without fear of the threat of these Gestapo raids on their businesses." The task force report said state scrutiny of two Indian casinos in El Paso and Eagle Pass led to the investigation of eight-liners. Mr. Sibley said there is no doubt that the casinos are illegal.

"Neither is currently operating within the statutory limitations of the [federal] Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or state gambling laws," the task force report said. The two tribes maintain the operations are legal under federal law allowing them to operate any form of gambling legal in the state.

The Tiguas, who run Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso, say their slot machines are similar to state lottery games that use computers to generate numbers for players.

The Kickapoos, who run Lucky Eagle Casino in Del Rio, say their games - while they look like slot machines - merely dispense game tickets similar to those legal at bingo halls.