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Texas house reverses course on lotto vote

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Update:: Texas house members voted 94-50 in favor of the amendment to do away with the Lottery by 2017 Wednesday. That is short of the two-thirds vote needed.

The Texas Lottery Commission nearly met its end Tuesday, after lawmakers originally voted against renewing it. That would have killed the lottery over the next 12 months.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it can be amended. The Commission's sunset date stands at 2025.

___________________________

(TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - In a brief — very brief — victory for opponents of the lottery, the Texas House voted against renewing the Texas Lottery Commission, a move that could have killed the lottery. After an afternoon break, however, the Commission was renewed by a later vote.

That means the lottery will remain in place, for now.

State Rep. Brian Hughes, R-Mineola, said Tuesday's vote wasn't planned.

"It wasn't a coordinated effort, but a majority of us don't like the lottery, and don't think it's a good way to raise money," Hughes said. "So 81 of us made that vote, and voted to end the lottery."

House Bill 2197 began as a seemingly routine proposal to continue the operations of the Texas Lottery Commission until September 2025. But opposition mounted after Tea Party lawmakers called the lottery a de-facto tax on the state's low-income residents.

Suddenly, the GOP-controlled chamber was voting 82-64 to defeat the measure and abolish the commission gradually during the next year, with the support of some liberal Democrats. The House then went into a hastily called lunch break.

"We had the votes," said state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler. "We won the first round. I guess certain people felt pressure, maybe even traded some votes. But we lost."

"This disproportionally affects poor people, and it's not the proper role of government to be engaged in the gambling business," Schaefer said. "Another argument is that it funds education. Well, we can find more appropriate ways to fund education than to prey upon people who aren't very good with math."

Despite some continued Tea Party opposition, the House eventually approved a measure to reconsider. It then voted to reauthorize the Lottery Commission by a vote of 91-53.

Christine Browning, 49, of Brownsboro, said the possibility of abolishing the lottery was "un-Texan," and said while she does not play often there would be lots of tears from other family members if it was abolished.

"It's something everyone likes to do," she said. "It's fun and you get cash."

Ramona Blaylock, 44, of Tyler, said she plays the Pick 3 about once a month and picks up a scratch off ticket about five times a week.

She said several people in Tyler have won a million dollars and been truly blessed by the lottery, and even if she does not win, the money goes back to educating children.

‘They keep beer and wine sales here so they should keep the lottery here too," she said.

State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, said that the lottery has been a disappointment.

"A lot of us have felt the lottery wasn't serving its intended purpose," Flynn said. "It was supposed to boost education funding, and it's never done that. It's become nothing more than a tax on those with low incomes. We do want to see that bingo stays in, because that helps our veterans and helps some churches. But we'll see what happens."

The money from lottery sales also helps mom and pop gas stations and businesses. Tsedey Gebiru, office assistant at Race Runner #7 gas station, 1516 South Vine Ave., said people come in exclusively for lotto tickets. She said some even spend $100 to $200 at a time.

And while the store does not generate a lot of profits from selling the tickets themselves, often customers also purchase other items in the store or gasoline.

Ms. Gebiru said she was surprised House members almost abolished gambling in the state, especially if the funds went to education.

""I believe it's a really good way to fundraiser because most people don't win that often," she said.

The lottery was created in 1991, after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment. The commission overseeing it was authorized by the Legislature two years later.

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