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Baptist leaders in Texas are speaking out against a proposal by Gov. Rick Perry to allow Video Lottery Terminals at the state’s horse-racing tracks and Native American tribal lands as a way to raise funds for education.

The plan would open the door to “Class 3” gambling, like slot machines, in addition to a state lottery and pari-mutuel gambling already legal in Texas, said Suzii Paynter, director of citizenship and public policy for the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission.

Perry has called a special session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes today in Austin, to find a permanent solution for school funding.

The governor’s plan calls for capping property taxes, a statewide tax on business property and increased reliance on “sin taxes” and gambling. Specifics include increasing the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, charging a $5 fee to enter clubs featuring adult entertainment and legalizing and taxing Video Lottery Terminals.

Perry says the addition of 18,000 machines would raise $2 billion over the next three years.

“Money for education should come from a stable, strong consumer economy, not slot machines,” Paynter said in an action alert last week.

Paynter said the social costs of gambling are too high, bringing addiction, bankruptcy and crime. She cited one study showing that 30 percent of all gambling revenues come from pathological addiction. “In this industry addiction is not incidental, it’s essential to business,” she said in a news release.

VLTs are electronic games of chance played at video terminals. They are similar to slot machines in appearance and operation. VLTs accept money or credits to allow playing of the game, and winners usually receive a slip of paper that can be cashed out, redeemed for prizes or used to play more games. Wagers range between 5 cents and $10 per play, depending on the game.

VLTs are sometimes called the “crack cocaine of gambling,” San Angelo pastors Bill Shiell and Kyle Reese co-wrote in a newspaper column. The machines promise a quick fix and encourage addiction three times faster than other forms of gambling, they said.

Shiell and Reese said they had first-hand knowledge of an individual who worked to attain his dream job before becoming addicted to casino gambling and eventually losing everything.

“[P]ublic education should not be funded by addictions in the general public,” the ministers said. “Video Lottery Terminals will only perpetuate a growing problem. Find the revenue elsewhere.”

Eight states currently allow VLTs, video gaming or slot machines at racetracks, according to the National Council of State Legislatures: Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

New York Gov. George Pataki is seeking to expand the use of VLTs in his state. The current law permits the machines at eight race tracks, but Pataki wants to put them in other places as well, including up to five locations in New York City.

Maryland‘s General Assembly, for the second year in a row, just rejected a Senate bill that would have legalized slot machines there.

Paynter warned that video slots would have a “cannibalizing effect” on consumer economy in Texas, by taking away money that could be spent in other ways.

Phil Strickland, head of Texas CLC, called the proposal “a community rip-off.”

“For every dollar the state collects in revenue, our communities will pay $3 to take care of social consequences,” he said.

Legalizing VLTs in Texas would require amending the state’s Constitution, meaning it must pass the Legislature by a two-thirds majority and be placed on the ballot in the general election in November.

Paynter said some lawmakers are using the ballot issue to pass the buck by saying they are letting the voters decide. “A vote for a constitutional amendment is a vote for gambling,” she said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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