Tablet Local

Are slot-like machines soon heading to Texas racetracks?

Lone Star Park isn’t rushing to install new gambling machines, but it does hope to get out of the gate soon.

The local horse racetrack in Grand Prairie has yet to ask state officials to add historical racing — slot-machinelike devices that replay races that have already been run — even though a rule allowing the controversial machines took effect last week.

“When the Texas Racing Commission says they are accepting applications, then yes, we will file one,” said John Elliot, CEO of Global Gaming Solutions, which owns Lone Star and is owned by the Chickasaw Nation. “It’s a timing question at the moment.”

The holdup appears to be a lawsuit filed in Austin by two dozen groups that benefit from charitable bingo in Texas and believe the addition of these “instant racing” machines will harm their livelihood.

They are asking a judge to prevent state officials from allowing these machines in Texas — and both sides are watching to see what happens.

“If those machines are implemented, they will immediately suck players out of the bingo hall,” said Steve Bresnen, an Austin-based attorney and lobbyist who represents charitable bingo interests. “Any bingo locations within 50 miles of a racetrack will essentially be driven out of business.”

So far, no applications to add the machines to horse or dog tracks in Texas have been turned in to the Texas Racing Commission. And state officials aren’t expected to address the issue until at least December.

“The rules are technically in effect,” Elliot said. “But there is uncertainty around where the current legal situation stands.”

But Elliot said he’s optimistic that the park will be able to move forward soon with submitting an application to put the machines at the local racetrack.

If all goes well, he said, machines could be added to the racetrack by mid-2015.

In late August, the Racing Commission approved a rule change to allow historical racing over objections from some state lawmakers.

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, filed a lawsuit asking for a restraining order against the commission and challenging the machines, saying commissioners didn’t have authority to allow them. Those requests were dismissed last month by state District Judge David Evans.

Supporters say the devices will help struggling Texas racetracks compete with out-of-state tracks that offer casinos, bigger crowds and bigger purses. Opponents say they will essentially bring a form of casino-style gambling to Texas because they look and act much like slot machines.

Court challenges

Historical racing is the replaying of past races on machines with sounds and symbols similar to slot machines.

Unlike traditional casino slots, the payoff is tied to historical race results. No information such as horse names, dates or tracks is included that could help players identify the winners in advance.

Critics of historical racing say the machines are too much like slot machines for Texas, where lawmakers have consistently veered away from approving casinos or any expansion of gambling.

Supporters say the devices will finally help Texas tracks and horsemen compete with other states.

“This is technology that will help … restore their livelihood,” Elliot said. “They’ll have some ability to raise daily purses, which can help restore breeding programs.”

The lawsuit pending in Austin maintains that the rule to allow the devices violates not only the Texas Racing Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, but also the Texas Constitution.

Last week, a judge in Austin denied the bingo groups’ request for a temporary restraining order against the Racing Commission that would prevent applications to add historical racing at Texas tracks from moving forward.

“For the second time a court has denied a TRO on this,” said Mike Lavigne, a spokesman for Sam Houston Race Park. “Suing to prevent competition isn’t a legal argument; it’s a smoke screen to distract from the Racing Commission’s clear authority to adopt these rules.

“I’m looking forward to the lawsuit against Southwest Airlines for too many nonstops to Vegas.”

The judge also scheduled a new hearing on the issue of a temporary injunction for Nov. 10. And the commission agreed to not take any action to allow the machines before Dec. 16, Bresnen said.

“Our main goal was to get the state on the hook to not be moving forward with any actual implementation until we have the opportunity” for a hearing, he said.

Bresnen has also asked the Texas Lottery Commission to join in the lawsuit because “we strongly believe the state lottery and public education funding in Texas face serious harm unless the Lottery Commission takes action to oppose the TRC’s efforts.” The Lottery Commission has yet to weigh in on the issue.

Krause said he is keeping an eye on the Austin case and has yet to decide whether to appeal his own ruling.

“Anytime an unconstitutional rule has gone into effect, it’s a concern,” he said. “It’s definitely a little disconcerting.”

Coming up

Racing Commission officials have declined to talk about the issue in detail because of the pending court case. But they have said in the past that they believed they had the authority to allow the machines, even though some conservative lawmakers asked them to not move forward with the proposal.

The commission is scheduled to meet next on Oct. 14, but commissioners aren’t expected to address historical racing because they have yet to receive an application to add the machines to any racetrack, commission spokesman Robert Elrod said.

“Aside from what’s in the new rules, we’re not really providing any direction, though we’re certainly available to answer any questions,” he said.

After that meeting, the next commission meeting is tentatively planned for December.

To add historical racing machines at Texas tracks, owners must apply to the commission for a permit to use historical racing. The commission will review each request — and each proposed game for any approved tracks — case by case, Elrod has said.

Elliott, of Global Gaming Solutions, said, “In due course, we will file an application at the direction of the Texas Racing Commission.”

He said he expects that it might take a month or two to prepare and file an application. And if that is approved, it could take several months to have machines approved by the commission — and ordered to go into a track.

“It is not a five-minute exercise,” Elliot said.