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Texas fight over slot-machine like devices far from over

The battle over historical racing in Texas is far from over.

Sources close to the issue say the odds are high that advocates will soon appeal this week’s ruling to prevent historical racing — played on slot-machinelike devices that replay races that have already been run — from going into Texas racetracks.

“I hope they will appeal,” said John Elliot, CEO of Global Gaming Solutions, which owns Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie and is owned by The Chickasaw Nation. “Obviously we are disappointed with the ruling. It impacts the livelihood of the horsemen and the communities in which they live.”

In late August, the Texas Racing Commission approved a rule change to allow historical racing at Texas horse and dog tracks, despite objections from several state lawmakers.

Supporters say historical racing is needed to help struggling Texas racetracks compete with out-of-state tracks that offer casinos, bigger crowds and bigger purses. Opponents say these machines look and act much like slot machines and would essentially bring a form of casino-style gambling to the state.

Two lawsuits were filed — one in Tarrant County by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who said commissioners lacked the the authority to allow the machines, and one in Travis County by a coalition of charitable bingo groups that said the machines might run them out of business.

The Fort Worth lawsuit was dismissed. But state District Judge Lora Livingston in Austin ruled Monday that the commission exceeded its authority and that such decisions should be left to the Legislature.

“I was very disappointed in the judge’s ruling, but I respect the legal process,” said Robert Schmidt, a local orthopedic surgeon who heads the commission. “The commission will review their options moving forward as we look over the judge’s decision during the next several days.”

Mixed opinions

The commission received a petition this year from those who race and breed horses in Texas, asking for a rule change to allow betting on historical races.

The agency received more than 13,000 responses on the issue. A handful came from conservative Texas lawmakers; the majority came from horsemen and women who want to see Texas allow the machines at racetracks.

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

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

Attorneys representing the bingo industry cheered this week’s ruling.

“Had these slot machines been allowed to be implemented, bingo would have been devastated,” Steve Bresnen, a spokesman for the coalition, told the media. “We appreciate the judge’s decision.”

Lawmakers approved state-regulated bingo in 1981 to raise money for Texas charities, which have received more than $1 billion through the game, a report shows.

Supporters of historical racing are looking ahead to the next step.

“We will see what happens with this,” Elliot said. “Then we will sit back and evaluate how we can help. Part of the issue is the horsing industry and what they want to do.

“Our position has always been that we support the horsemen.”

Local reaction

Krause sued this year asking for a restraining order against the commission and challenging the machines, saying commissioners didn't have authority to allow them.

Even though state District Judge David Evans also believed that commissioners lack authority to allow the machines, he said in his ruling that he had to dismiss the case because Krause had no right to intervene.

Krause said he feels justified with the latest ruling.

“It vindicates our initial lawsuit,” he said. “Now we’ve had judges in Tarrant County and Travis County say the Texas Racing Commission was acting outside of its authority.

“From a legal and constitutional point, we were right.”

Krause said he’s considering filing a bill next session that will make sure lawmakers have the right to address situations when they believe that state agencies and boards have exceeded their authority.

“I’m considering filing legislation to give lawmakers authority to have standing in this type of case,” he said. “It’s all very preliminary.”

Moving forward?

Racing Commission officials have declined to talk about the issue in detail because of the pending court case. But they have said 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 Dec. 16, spokesman Robert Elrod said.

To add historical racing machines at Texas tracks, owners must apply to the commission for a permit to use historical racing.

If allowed to proceed, the commission will review each request — and each proposed game for any approved tracks — case by case, Elrod has said.

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