The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is not happy with their state representative, Jim Otto, whom they say promised he would vote for HB 10, the Indian gaming bill, but voted against it. Carlos Bullock, a member of the tribal council, sent me this release by regular mail.

On Thursday night at 12:20 a.m. [Actually Friday, May 4], HB 10, which would have allowed the Tribe to reopen the Entertainment Center, failed to pass the Texas House of Representatives. The vote ended in a 66-66 tie with John Otto voting NO on HB 10. We needed a majority of the House, and if Otto voted in favor it would have passed. [Boldfacing is Mr. Bullock’s.]

John Otto told the Tribe that he would vote in favor of HB 10, and was even quoted in the [Polk County] Enterprise as being in favor of the bill. There were several factors that contributed to the tie. First, the opposition were deliberately telling lies about the Tribe and about our Entertainment Center. The Tribe had to counter all of the false claims, and had to try to educate House members. Another factor was the amount of big casino’s involvement in not passing HB 10. Money was involved in this bill not passing, money that came from Harrah’s, Boyd Gaming (Delta Downs), Pinnacle (L’Auberge du Lac). HB 10 was about 2 Tribes in Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua.

Another reason for the tie was the time the vote took place, and the amount of members that were in our favor [who] were not present at vote time. The most disappoint aspect of the hearing on the floor were representatives from wealthy districts talking about what is best for Polk County and East Texas. These representatives talked about the Tribe and called us criminals, and drug dealers. As these people were degrading the Tribe, our own State Representative John Otto did not even stand up and defend our character. I could understand if he was against the bill, but I believe he owned his constituents respect when another member of the House speaks about your district. This was a very sad day for the Trible and for East Texas. Thank all of you for your support. The Trible would appreciate your letting John Otto know the affects [sic] of his decision on gaming.

Here is what Otto’s office sent me:

Thank you so much for calling our office seeking Rep. Otto’s response to the letter you received from the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. What I am sending to you is the half page ad Rep. Otto purchased that will run in the Polk County Enterprise (the local newspaper in Livingston). We were forced to purschase the ad space because the newspaper would not print our press releases on this subject, and when asked about that, responded with, “John Otto does not get a say on everything. It’s just his opinion.” So, we purchased the ad space, and have submitted the attached.

Otto’s ad appears below. The text has been reformatted to allow it to be published on the blog.

The True Story Behind HB 10, the Indian Gaming Bill

My Position on Gaming in Polk County
I support casino gaming on the Alabama-Coushatta’s reservation – but it has to be done right. By that I mean I want a constitutional amendment voted on by the people of Texas, just like we asked the voters to approve the lottery and pari-mutuel betting. I have been clear on this.

There was no voter referendum language in HB 10, so I tried to add it with an amendment mandating a county-wide vote in Polk County, but I was told my amendment was unconstitutional and would not be allowed. Unfortunately, there are not 100 votes in the Texas House to pass a constitutional amendment resolution to legalize gaming in Texas.

HB 10 does not legalize gaming – it only provides a “defense from prosecution,” which does not legalize it, but simply says the state will look the other way. I think that is a “back-door” way around our Texas constitution. If we have gaming in Texas, then let’s do it right, let’s be honest with the people of Texas, and let’s make it legal.

Did you know…?

* As determined in court, Indian Gaming violates our state constitu­tion. HB 10 as drafted circumvents the voting process, taking this impor­tant decision away from the voters, and simply serves as a “back door” to violating our constitution.

* This bill did not legalize gaming – it simply said that if you violate the law and the Texas constitution we can not prosecute you.

* The State of Texas would get only 10% of the “revenue” from Indian gaming, compared to the 28% the state gets from the lottery.

* There is no enforcement of what the “revenue” actually is. By law, the State of Texas is not allowed onto Tribal land, so there is no way to know for certain what the actual pro­ceeds are, so there is no way to know what the state’s 10% should be.

* The bill contains no state or federal licensing mechanism or regulation of the games.

* The bill has no state enforcement of criminal laws for illegal gambling.

Myth vs. Truth

Unfortunately, there are people not telling you the truth about HB 10. I will happily discuss the bill on its merits with anyone, but what is unac­ceptable are the lies being told about the bill and the dynamics around it. I want to address just a few of these lies with you:

Rep. Otto lied to the Indians.

Not true. Everyone knew I was not a “Yes” vote with the version of the bill in front of us that night. For three days prior to the vote, I was in con­stant contact with the author of the bill, Rep. Norma Chavez (D-El Paso). She was very aware that I could not be a “Yes” vote on this version of the bill since it was without the voter ref­erendum language. The tribe’s repre­sentatives called me just hours before the vote to ask again for my support on the bill, even offering to bring in their attorneys to give me their opin­ion of the constitutional issues I had with the bill. Why would they do any of that if they knew I was a “Yes?” To give you an idea of the lack of com­munication the tribe had with my office, my staff and I were at lunch when two buses with the tribe’s logo drove passed us. We were shocked to see so many tribe members in Austin because not a single one had come by our office to touch base with me prior to the vote.

HB 10 was intentionally delayed until late at night when the “Yes” votes were gone from the House floor.

Not true. Per House rules, all bills must be taken up in the order they are posted. HB 10 was taken up in order. It was not, and can not be, intention­ally delayed.

We would have casino gaming in Polk County if Rep. Otto was a “Yes.”

Not true for several reasons. (1) This was simply the first vote on the House floor, with another to fol­low the next day, per House rules; (2) 18 members were absent for the first vote, and there is no way to know the outcome of the next vote when more members were present; (3) the bill still had to go to the Senate, where it is common knowledge it is dead on arrival. As a matter of fact, the Senate version of the bill was filed on Febru­ary 26th and has yet to have a com­mittee hearing.

HB 10 would be an economic boom for Polk County.

As amended, probably not. Did you know the bill as voted on would provide for only bingo and poker? HB 10 was amended to allow for only pull-tab bingo (just like a lot­tery ticket but rather than scratching the ticket you pull a paper tab to re­veal your prize) and non-bank card games (card games where there is no “house”). What this means is, under this bill, there would be no slot ma­chines, no video poker, no blackjack, no roulette wheels, no 3 card poker, and no craps. Will pull-tab bingo and poker stop the flow of people to Lou­isiana? Most likely, no. Will there be a huge boom of jobs and money for this area? No. So, are we willing to put aside the bigger question of ig­noring the constitution in an “ends justifies the means” approach?

Rep. Otto was influenced by outside groups who want gaming in Texas to fail.

Not true. Nobody from these out­side groups came by my office and sat down with me or my staff to dis­cuss HB 10. Anyone who suggests they had influence with me or my of­fice is not telling you the truth.

The next time you hear someone saying these things, please take the time to set the record straight. I am purchasing this ad to do just that.

Thank you.

* * * *

I’m not sure that any other comment is required, but … here’s how I feel about gambling and politics. I think Texas should have casino gambling. Full-scale casinos are good for economic development. They’re good for the state budget. We’re losing zillions of dollars to neighboring states. I don’t like VLTs at racetracks. If racetracks can’t make money, I see no reason to award them gaming franchises, except that they’re politically well connected. You won’t get the kind of investment you see in Vegas. They will just prey off residents in the area. Indian gaming is even more problematical. The state can’t regulate Indian gaming. There is nothing to stop Indian gaming establishments from cutting payouts t0 50%. If Indian tribes are prohibited by the state constitution from operating bingo games, I’d be for amending the constitution to permit it. But casino games? No.

My wife and I love to go to Vegas. We love the the people-watching, the big hotels, the restaurants, an occasional show (Frank Sinatra one New Year’s Eve!). We love to drive in the desert, to Death Valley and Valley of Fire State Park. I like the golf, which is theme-parkish, just like the casinos: Royal Links (replicated holes from British Open courses) and Bear’s Best (Jack Nicklaus’s best desert holes). I’ll wager on a few sporting events and play a little roulette, because it’s slow-paced and requires no skill. But if the Bellagio was across the street from my office in downtown Austin, I would never go there.