|By Aman Batheja and Dave Montgomery, Fort
Worth Star-Telegram, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 9, 2009 - AUSTIN -- One of the country's richest men said Wednesday that he would consider building a luxury casino complex in Dallas-Fort Worth if the Texas Legislature approves a measure allowing up to 12 destination casinos in the state's urban centers.
Sheldon G. Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., was the first of dozens of witnesses who testified before the House Licensing and Administration Procedures Committee about several gaming bills the Legislature is considering.
Adelson supports a comprehensive bill backed by the Texas Gaming Association that would create 12 Las Vegas-style resort casinos, permit slot machines at horse and dog tracks and permit casino gaming on Indian reservations. A projected $3 billion to $4.5 billion in state taxes raised from gaming revenue would be used for transportation and scholarships.
"A destination resort is the right way to go," Adelson told the committee. "I would applaud whoever thought of this."
Later, Adelson told reporters that Dallas-Fort Worth would be one of several possible sites for a destination resort in Texas. Asked how much he would likely spend to build a resort in the Metroplex, Adelson said, "Whatever it takes."
Adelson said Dallas-Fort Worth would be well-suited for a resort casino because it is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation and has one of the world's biggest airports. He and other casino developers, however, could face resistance from local leaders; Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck have signaled likely opposition to a casino.
Adelson, the son of a cabdriver, was ranked the nation's third-richest man by Forbes magazine in 2007 and 2008 -- behind Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett -- before his net worth dropped by more than $15 billion in this recession, The New York Times reported.
His company owns the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. It also owns the Sands Macao in China's special administrative region of Macao.
Adelson told the committee that he would be willing to invest more than $2 billion in a project in Texas and described his company's resorts as opulent, "highly respectable" sites. One complex has 30 restaurants with well-known, world-class chefs.
Standing alongside an easel displaying photographs of the company's resorts, Adelson outlined the company's basic tenet of building lavish resorts with amenities for tourists. Casinos, he said, constitute only a small percentage of total space.
"We don't have to make money from casinos," he said. "We make money from other activities as well."
Casino legislation doesn't appear to have substantially more support in the Legislature this year than it did in previous sessions. Many lawmakers remain opposed to it and Gov. Rick Perry has suggested he would veto any gambling bills that cross his desk.
Yet those long odds didn't stop dozens of representatives of various interest groups from telling the committee their thoughts on the bills filed. Indian tribes say they deserve a piece of the action. Bingo hall operators are worried that casinos will steal all their customers.
The Christian Life Commission of the General Baptist Convention of Texas opposes gambling expansion for moral reasons Yet spokesman Rob Kohler focused his testimony on economics. While acknowledging that construction of casinos would be an economic boon, he predicted there wouldn't be much gain to state coffers or the state economy "after the last palm tree is planted."
Jack Pratt of the Texas Gaming Association told the committee that Texas casinos could steal business from Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., while avoiding many of the negative effects by licensing only a limited number of casinos.
Horse racing interests said an expansion of gambling could save their industry by dedicating some of the revenue to increase the purse size at the state's racetracks.
"We are not asking for any handouts," said Jim Helzer, president of the American Quarter Horse Association. "We are simply asking for an opportunity to get to that same level the other states have recognized and have in fact supported."
By Aman Batheja and Dave Montgomery
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