The Texas Racing Commission ran interference for its friends in the Legislature on Friday, moving to spare them from having to cast a public vote on allowing a controversial new form of gambling at Texas horse and dog tracks.
Commissioners voted 7-1 to allow “historical racing” terminals at tracks. With the look and feel of slot machines, the terminals allow people to watch and bet on depictions of races run long ago, with no identifying markers that would allow bettors to figure out ahead of time who won.
Commission leaders, track officials and people who raise, breed and train horses and dogs for racing figure the terminals will bring in additional revenue, which would allow tracks to pay out larger purses and boost the slumping animal industries.
Historical racing really should be a topic for the Legislature. The question is whether this step expands gambling. Anything that comes even close to that should be settled by elected lawmakers, not political appointees.
Even if lawmakers don’t want to get involved, they should.
It would be a tough vote, forcing them to stand publicly for or against anti-gambling forces such as the Austin-based Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
But if they were to vote with the Christian Life Commission, they’d be going against not only the people who like to gamble but also a substantial number of influential people in the horse and dog businesses.
That vote still might happen. State Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth has sued to block the commission’s action, and state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to rule on whether the commission has the authority to allow historical gambling.
The commission — no real surprise — is firmly in the corner of the businesses it regulates.
The horse business especially, Chairman Robert Schmidt of Fort Worth said, is “in a severe downward spiral” and needs help.
It’s instructive to see how the commission plans to accomplish the change. Its proposals were published in the Texas Register in late June.
They’ll erase the part of current rules that limit the commission to regulating only “live and simulcast” racing.
When the game doesn’t fit the rules, change the rules.