If Texas racing needs fixing, let the work begin.
Ranchers, horse trainers and spokesmen say the industry is suffering. They say Texas tracks will struggle without new revenue from electronic games, or maybe casino gambling.
Neither is legal in Texas. Both would require thorough review by both lawmakers and the public, not the agency vote state racing commissioners have tried.
State officials have given the commission a deadline to reverse a vote to add slot-like electronic “historical racing” games used elsewhere.
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But if gaming is not the answer, leaders must decide what is.
Now is the time for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House officials to appoint a joint interim committee on the future of parimutuel racing.
The one-day shutdown of Lone Star Downs and other Texas horse and dog racing tracks last week has left both industry leaders and track patrons uncertain about the future.
If lawmakers do not set a course quickly, the industry will continue to suffer along with parimutuel revenue.
The question should not be only how to save racing, but also if it should be saved.
Total revenue is down by half since 2000, and attendance is on a steady decline. As a result, the purse money for thoroughbreds has shrunk more than 40 percent in the last 10 years, and employment has declined as thoroughbred owners go to races in other states.
The reason is one of simple economics: Other states offer richer purses financed by more gamblers and more games.
Years ago, officials at an Arkansas park devised slot-like race replays called “historical racing,” and the state has added video slots and gaming. The 2004 and 2006 openings of two Oklahoma casinos barely across the state line also eroded Texas racing attendance and revenue.
Texas lawmakers have consistently rejected casino slots and any similar electronic games. But the pressure will only intensify to expand gambling for the sake of jobs and the racing industry.
Lawmakers need to make tough choices about racing’s future. A joint committee should get started.