AUSTIN -- Lawmakers in the Texas House cheered the passage of a bill early Tuesday evening saving the Texas Lottery from demise.
The vote came after initial confusion, with House members earlier in the day voting down a bill filed by state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) to renew the Texas Lottery Commission.
Charged with operating the state lottery and charitable bingo programs, the commission was set to expire in September under the Texas Sunset provision unless lawmakers voted to renew it.
"I was surprised, frankly," Anchia said of the early vote. "None of the members had talked to me about their opposition to the lottery. There were two members who said they were going to speak against the bill, but there was no groundswell of opposition."
Anchia says the Texas Lottery today provides roughly $1.1 billion a year in revenue for schools. Since the lottery was approved by Texas voters in 1991, longtime Texas politics watcher and Quorum Report editor Harvey Kronberg says it's faced two main criticisms.
"It never really produced the kind of money that we thought it was going to produce," said Kronberg. "The second, it was sold as money dedicated to education but it mostly just goes into general revenue."
"We didn't even expect this much support from the membership to begin with. It was a complete surprise," said Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), who led the effort to end the lottery's operation.
Sanford argues the program is a bad way to raise revenue.
"It's not meeting its intended purpose," Sanford told KVUE. "But more than that, it sets up a system that preys on the poor. I believe that it's an immoral tax. It's a predatory tax, because the people who play it the most are the people who make the least."
After Sanford's effort initially succeeded, lawmakers quickly questioned the fiscal impact of the move. After adjourning and meeting individually, House members voted two and a half hours later to reconsider and ultimately renew the commission. Afterward, Anchia said lawmakers were faced with a choice.
"We could eliminate the lottery, and then simply raise taxes or cut public schools by another $2.2 billion on top of the $5.4 billion cut from last session, or we could keep the lottery," said Anchia. "And ultimately that's what happened on the final vote."
"I'm neutral on the lottery," said Anchia. "I don't love it and I don't hate it, but I do love public school children. I want to make sure they have the best education possible and the Legislature had no alternatives in place to fund public schools to the tune of $2.2 billion on an ongoing basis."
After Tuesday's gambit, the Texas Lottery isn't going anywhere. At the same time, Sanford suggests the early vote is a sign efforts this session to open the door for casino gambling in the Lone Star State face long odds.
"I think everyone's clear now about the future of gambling in Texas. I think it's going nowhere," said Sanford. "I believe the Republicans spoke with their first vote about their heartfelt sentiments. They would really like some more time to be able to evaluate what are the financial implications if we were to cut it off right away. It's always right to do right."