Fifty-five percent of Texans would support a state measure similar to the one in Arizona to crack down on illegal immigration, a new poll by the nonpartisan Texas Lyceum group has found.
The poll released Tuesday determined that 21 percent of the more than 700 adults questioned in the telephone survey believe immigration is the most important problem facing Texas. Most polled would support measures like Arizona's, which lets law officers ask about a person's immigration status.
The Texas Lyceum poll also covered legislative issues such as legalized gambling, education and the state budget shortfall.
Polling was done by telephone from Sept. 22-30 and included Spanish-speaking interviewers. For the state issues portion of the poll, the answers of all adult Texans were counted, regardless of whether they were registered voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.75 percentage points.
Gambling questions in the poll determined that 29 percent of Texans favor full-blown legalized casino gambling; 21 percent favor expanding gambling in pre-approved or existing locations, like race tracks; and 23 percent support current gambling laws, which allow betting at tracks and a state lottery.
Only 22 percent of those questioned favor a complete ban on gambling.
The Legislature is expected to consider gambling expansion when lawmakers convene in January amid a projected state revenue shortfall estimated to be as high as $18 billion. Though previous moves to expand gambling failed, pro-casino and race track groups say 2011 could be their time because of the revenue shortfall.
"I wish they would build them tomorrow," said Randy Ford, a truck driver from Irving who said he sometimes gambles in Oklahoma's Indian casinos. "I like the casinos. I hate going all the way to Oklahoma. I hope they legalize them."
Just last month, with an eye toward possible gambling expansion, Penn National Gaming Inc. and Sam Houston Race Park in Houston, through its parent company Maxxam Inc., announced a partnership to own and operate the Houston racing facility, the Valley Race Park in Harlingen and a planned racetrack in Laredo.
Also, the tribe that owns Winstar, along Interstate 35 in Thackerville, Oklahoma, recently purchased Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, where some favor building a "racino" -- a combination racetrack and casino. Winstar and other Oklahoma casinos stand to lose Texas customers if Texas legalizes casinos.
Texans responding to the poll said overall the best way to raise state revenue would be to increase the sales tax on alcoholic beverages. The next highest answer said the state should legalize and tax casino gambling. And the third most popular answer was to legalize and tax marijuana.
"Legislators convening in Austin in January may want to take note that Texans are willing to soak the so-called 'sinners' when it comes time to tackle the budget shortfall," said Daron Shaw, a University of Texas at Austin professor and a Texas Lyceum pollster.
Poll respondents said they wanted funding maintained or increased for health care for the elderly, mentally ill and poor children and for public schools.
Thirty-six percent of those polled didn't want state lawmakers to use any of the estimated $8 billion expected to be in the Rainy Day fund. Fifty-nine percent said a bit or some of the money should be spent to help meet the projected revenue shortfall.
Other poll findings showed that 24 percent of Texans favor allowing same-sex civil unions and another 28 percent favor allowing same-sex marriage. Forty percent oppose both.