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Saturday, December 21
Wilson: Casino could bring in $1 billion a year

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- The world's first indoor baseball park could become its biggest luxury casino if a Texas lawmaker has his way.

State Rep. Ron Wilson wants to bring the Astrodome back to life, wagering that the state and county could pull in probably $1 billion in revenue a year running the gambling operation.

"I think it's an excellent idea; the Eighth Wonder of the World. You've already got 30,000 parking spaces,'' Jordy Tollett, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Houston Chronicle in Saturday's editions.

Wilson has bet against the odds before. The Houston Democrat concedes he's sponsored state gaming proposals in the recent past that never went anywhere.

The Astrodome, once the venue of former President Lyndon Johnson's barbecue for astronaut heroes and former President Bush's second nomination to the presidency, was also once home to the Houston Astros' National League team.

But since a retractable-roof facility was designed for construction next to the Astrodome, its fate has been in question. When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it was the largest such facility ever.

But some Houstonians are taking Wilson seriously after county officials scoffed at the idea.

County Commissioner Steve Radack noted that Wilson is known for his headline-grabbing exploits.

"It sounds like a publicity-seeking bill,'' said Radack. "Never mind the fact that the state doesn't own the dome, and never mind that the owners aren't even asked about it before he wastes a bunch of time drafting a bill.''

The Texas Legislative Council is drafting Wilson's measure, calling for Texans to amend the Texas Constitution to legalize state-sponsored gaming in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

"I like the idea of the state running casino gambling,'' said Wilson. "Then you can manage advertising, the number of compulsive gamblers it creates. If you have private industry that does it, they don't care about creating compulsive gamblers.''

Wilson estimates development costs at $25 million.

County Judge Robert Eckels said gambling would create a net loss for Houston, not a gain as it drains local dollars that would have been spent on other entertainment.

Although Gov. Rick Perry is against any expansion of gambling in Texas, some still hold out hope for Wilson. He scored a huge victory a dozen years ago with his bill creating the Texas Lottery.

"We've got plenty of gaming space in Space City USA,'' said Tollett, describing plans for a 500-room hotel, swanky restaurants and thriving nightclubs adjoining the casino.

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