June 30, 2005
Slots Interests Fed $4.6 Million
Into Texas Political
Coffers in 2004
GOP Elephants Trot Off With 70 Percent of the Purse
The army of one-armed bandits that converged upon the 2005 legislative session went home empty-handed—despite having inundated Texas politicos with more than $4.6 million dollars in the preceding election cycle. Odds are that these bandidos will return, given the vast gambling spoils that lie locked within the Capitol’s vulnerable gates.
More than 200 donors with stakes in legalizing modern slot machines (or “video lottery terminals”) invested $4,563,617 in Texas politicians in the 2004 election cycle. Most of this money ($3.6 million) arrived via pony express.
TX Contributions (2004 Cycle)
|Dog race Interests||$272,151|
|Native American Tribes||$82,000|
|Other slots interests||$566,285|
Investors in existing or proposed horse tracks contributed $2.2 million in 2004. This includes investors who just applied to the Texas Racing Commission last month to open a new track near McAllen. Apart from these track interests, investors in the racehorses themselves contributed another $1.4 million.
Retama Park interests gave politicians the most money, led by four Retama investors who contributed more than $100,000 apiece (car magnate Red McCombs, beer distributor Alan Dreeben, Caterpillar dealer Peter Holt and developer George Hixon). Retama gained further influence when its chairman's son, Joe Straus III, won a vacated House seat in February.
Lone Star Park interests contributed $749,145 in 2004, led by the family of Trammell and Harlan Crow ($627,295). When the Crows sold Lone Star to Canada-based Magna Entertainment Corp. in 2002, they retained a 10 percent stake in any of that track’s future gaming revenues.
The beer-distributing LaMantia family ($197,911 in contributions) leads two partnerships that have applied to open two Rio Grande Valley tracks. The LaMantia’s LRP Group already had a Laredo track application pending in late May, when their new company, Valle de Los Tesoros, applied to open a McAllen track, too. The Straus family is a major investor in these LaMantia ventures.
|Retama Park (Sn Antonio)||$829,668|
|Lone Star Park (Gr. Prairie)||$749,145|
|*LRP Group (Laredo)||$288,511|
|*Maxxam, Inc. (Houston)||$260,620|
|*Austin Jockey Club (Austin)||$39,700|
|*Tesoros Race Park (McAllen)||$22,984|
|Saddle Brook Park (Amarillo)||$11,123|
|Manor Downs (Austin)||$7,400|
|ALL HORSE TRACKS:||$2,209,151|
Maxxam, Inc., which controls the Sam Houston and Valley race parks, is competing against LRP Group for a Laredo franchise. A 2002 memo produced by Tom DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC) recorded a $5,000 pledge from Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz along with a note on Hurwitz’s agenda: “Horseracing, #1.” Maxxam’s PAC sunk $254,750 into Texas’ 2004 elections, posting the fastest growth rate of any large PAC in the state.
Top Contributors With Slots Links
|Contributor||City||Primary Slots Link||Amount
|Robert McNair, Jr.||Houston||Horse breeding||$664,792|
|Harlan Crow||Dallas||Lone Star Park||$508,327|
|Maxxam, Inc. PAC||Houston||Sam Houston Race Park||$254,750|
|Big City Capital, LLC||Houston||Lobbying for slots||$212,750|
|Robert/Gordon Johnson||Austin||Gulf Greyhound||$188,814|
|Bobby Cox||Fort Worth||Horse breeding||$186,000|
|Landry's Restaurants PAC||Houston||Landry's/Golden Nugget||$168,379|
|B.J. 'Red' McCombs||San Antonio||Retama||$160,116|
|Alan W. Dreeben||Schertz||Retama||$129,409|
|George Hixon||San Antonio||Retama||$107,000|
|Greg LaMantia||McAllen||LRP Group||$93,730|
|Trammell Crow||Dallas||Lone Star Park||$88,250|
|Mike Rutherford||Houston||Horse breeding||$82,831|
|Joe LaMantia||McAllen||LRP Group||$74,631|
|Gordon Graves||Austin||MultiMedia Games||$64,000|
|Melissa Jones||Austin||Horse breeding||$63,532|
|Robert Kaminski||Dallas||Lone Star Park||$62,000|
|Larry Martin||Houston||LRP Group||$59,100|
|TX Thoroughbred Breeders||Austin||Horse breeding||$58,300|
|Corey Johnsen||Euless||Lone Star Park||$45,500|
|Helen Kleberg Groves||San Antonio||Retama||$45,000|
|TX Quarter Horse Assn||Austin||Horse breeding||$40,435|
|Tilman Fertitta||Houston||Landry's/Golden Nugget||$39,700|
|James Helzer||Arlington||Horse breeding||$38,525|
|Gerald Ford||Dallas||Horse breeding||$37,600|
|Joan Kelleher||San Antonio||Retama||$32,750|
|Christopher Hall||Miami Shores||LRP Group||$26,250|
|Joe Straus, Jr.||San Antonio||Retama||$25,575|
Retama CEO Bryan Brown is a lead investor in the Austin Jockey Club with Fort Worth magnate Holt Hickman ($12,700 in contributions) and Pflugerville developer Tim Timmerman ($12,000). The Austin Jockey Club wanted to build a track in Pflugerville before local voters ran them out of town earlier this year. This rout was a victory for Manor Downs ($7,400 in contributions), which operates a nearby track.
Drew Alexander ($10,823 in contributions) heads Saddle Brook Park, which is not currently exercising its Amarillo track license. Son Drew Alexander II—who has managed the bar at Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget Casino—sits on Saddle Brook’s board.
Some of the top contributors linked to Texas’ two greyhound tracks are better known for jockeying lawmakers. Lobbyist Nick Kralj ($11,618) owns a stake in Corpus Christi Greyhound; the family and firm of lobbyist Robert E. Johnson ($188,814) own shares in Gulf Greyhound.
The Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta tribes (contributing a total of $82,000) view slots as an entrée back into gambling after the state shuttered their casinos.1 Embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked for the Louisiana Coushatta, which opposed competition from Texas casinos. The Associated Press recently reported that a DeLay aide got Abramoff to redirect the $55,000 that the Louisiana Coushatta contributed to DeLay PACs— including TRMPAC—in 2002. Abramoff directed the tribe to redirect this money to GOP-friendly groups to prevent DeLay’s PACs from having to disclose these gambling ties.
Still other donors with broad gambling interests dropped $566,285 in Texas’ 2004 election cycle, led by Landry’s Restaurants and Big City Capital. Houston-based Landry’s recently bought the Golden Nugget Casino and reportedly wants to develop casinos closer to home. Big City hired one of 2005’s top slots lobby teams. Owner Billy Bob Barnett dabbled in Vegas casino ventures after selling his Billy Bob’s nightclub to track investor Holt Hickman.
Slots interests bet 70 percent of their total political purse on Republican PACs and candidates ($3.2 million). Meanwhile Democrats got 13 percent of all slots money ($580,105), with the remainder going to ostensibly non-partisan PACs.
Governor Rick Perry rode away with the most slots money, drawing a remarkable $682,969. Lobby Watch previously reported how Perry bagged a third of this money on a single day—shortly before he made slots a centerpiece of his failed 2004 special session on school funding. Perry has since distanced himself from slots, as he jockeys with potential rivals for the 2006 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
One such rival, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, booked $445,958 from slots interests while serving as an ex-oficio member of the Texas Racing Commission. Slots interests gave more than $100,000 apiece to two other statewide officials: Attorney General Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs.
Slots interests gave more than $1 million to the leaders of Texas’ two legislative chambers, led by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst ($657,306). House Speaker Tom Craddick’s take was $357,060 when his contributions are combined with those of Stars Over Texas—a PAC organized to retain Craddick as Speaker.
The top slots recipients in the Senate are Democrats Ken Armbrister and Chuy Hinojosa. As the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership recognized in a recent legislative post-mortem, Armbrister rode the racing industry’s agenda to the finish line. Even as the clock ran out at midnight on the session’s final day, the Partnership wrote, “industry champion” Armbrister “offered an amendment to the Lottery Commission sunset bill that would have allowed a statewide referendum to legalize video lottery terminals.”
Apart from the speaker, the top House recipient of slots money was gambling cheerleader Ron Wilson, whose Democratic constituents threw him out in 2004 for failing to buck GOP redistricting. The House’s next-largest recipient of slots money is Dan Branch. This Republican has advocated increasing school funding through broad-based business taxes rather than through slots revenue.
Top Recipients of Slots Money
|Recipient (Party)||Office Sought or Held||Amount
|Rick Perry (R)||Governor||$682,969|
|David Dewhurst (R)||Lt. Governor||$657,306|
|Texans For Lawsuit Reform||PAC||$624,747|
|Carole Keeton Strayhorn (R)||Comptroller||$445,958|
|Stars Over Texas PAC (R)||PAC||$211,510|
|Tom Craddick (R)||Speaker||$145,550|
|Greg Abbott (R)||Attorney General||$136,450|
|Susan Combs (R)||Agriculture Commission||$105,675|
|Ron Wilson (D)||House (lost)||$79,250|
|Daniel Branch (R)||House||$72,086|
|Associated Republicans of TX (R)||PAC||$56,050|
|Daniel Barnes (R)||Senate (lost)||$52,000|
|BG Distribution Partners PAC||PAC||$47,946|
|Kelly White (D)||House (lost)||$45,995|
|Todd Baxter (R)||House||$41,250|
|Kenneth Armbrister (D)||Senate||$36,600|
|Juan Hinojosa (D)||Senate||$30,674|
|Talmadge Heflin (R)||House (lost)||$29,392|
|Chris Harris (R)||Senate||$28,750|
|Joe Straus (R)||House||$25,650|
|Yes on 12||PAC||$25,250|
|John Sharp (D)||Lt. Governor (lost)||$25,000|
|Elizabeth Jones (R)||House||$22,000|
|Victor Carrillo (R)||Railroad Commission||$20,081|
|Wholesale Beer Distributors||PAC||$19,452|
|Rodney Ellis (D)||Senate||$19,150|
|Eduardo Lucio (D)||Senate||$18,896|
|Patrick Rose (D)||House||$18,250|
|Paul Green (R)||Supreme Court||$18,200|
|Kevin Eltife (R)||Senate||$18,000|
|John Whitmire (D)||Senate||$16,250|
|Jeffrey Wentworth (R)||Senate||$15,650|
|Harris Co. Republican Party (R)||PAC||$15,100|
1 In contrast, the Kickapoo tribe has opposed legalizing slots, which it fears would drain business from its casino in Eagle Pass. Texas lacks authority to close this casino because—unlike the Tigua and the Alabama-Coushatta—the U.S. government formally recognizes the Kickapoo tribe’s autonomy.