Bud Kennedy

With $5 bets and long-shot hopes, Grand Prairie gambles on Lone Star Park

Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen’s father was a local evangelist.
Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen’s father was a local evangelist. KERA News

As mayor of Grand Prairie, Ron Jensen is still the preacher’s son from Eighth Street Baptist Church.

So he’s not the typical champion of Texas horse racing. But he can count.

“Horse racing draws 1 million visitors a year to Grand Prairie, with 900 jobs and an economic impact of $30 million,” he recited Tuesday, waiting for the settlement that would reopen Lone Star Park after a one-day state shutdown.

“Folks, racing in Texas needs help. If we’re not able to race this fall, there will be severe consequences for Grand Prairie.”

Now 18 years old, Lone Star Park is far removed from its 2004 Breeders’ Cup heyday. Texas racing is going nowhere, and nearby casinos get the blame.

“Our tracks are not making any money, and the other states all have gaming to supplement track revenue,” Jensen said.

Gambling is illegal in Texas, except for bingo, the lottery and thousands of eight-liner video parlors, some sticking to the $5 legal payoff and many not.

In other words, Texans are already gambling, but not to help the horse industry.

“We think the investment would help racetracks survive,” Jensen said.

“I have a big concern about the racetrack going dark if we don’t get it.”

The Tuesday shutdown was the result of a stare-down between Senate officials and the Texas Racing Commission, which OK’d slotlike “historical” Instant Racing games without lawmakers’ approval.

The 90-day extension reopens Lone Star for quarter horse season while Gov. Greg Abbott replaces three commissioners.

Jensen knows Republicans can’t support gaming.

“Conservatives would win in November, but not in the [March] primary,” he said.

“I understand that dilemma.”

He’s no gambler.

“I put $5 on the No. 5 horse in every race,” he said. “And I win.”

He knows he’s betting on a long shot.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram