Racing industry has picked a losing fight

Horses race at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.
Horses race at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. Star-Telegram

The Texas Racing Commission, a state agency created by the Legislature in 1986, run by two state officials (the comptroller and the chair of the Public Safety Commission) and seven members appointed by the governor subject to approval by the Senate, funded by a budget controlled by the Legislature, has decided to pick a fight with that same Legislature.

Somewhere, sometime, in some language, there might be or might have been a definition of the concept of dumb that does not cover this decision. But not in Texas, not in plain English, and not now.

The commission can’t win, and it shouldn’t.

The proximate cause of disagreement, and the immediate issue behind the decision at a meeting on Tuesday, is the commission’s determination to allow “historical racing” at Texas horse and dog tracks.

Historical racing involves betting on previously run races, with no identifiers that would provide clues to the original outcome, on devices that look and sound a lot like slot machines.

Authority to allow that activity is and should remain with the Legislature, not the commission. Early in this year’s legislative session, lawmakers made it clear that they do not intend to give up that authority.

Racing commissioners have had months — had months even before the Legislature convened — to back away from a doomed confrontation by rescinding its attempted approval for historical racing. They decided not to.

The commissioners insist that the state’s horse and dog tracks are going broke, and historical racing is needed to save them.

If that is the case, surely racing industry representatives could have made a convincing argument to the Legislature to allow historical racing to move forward. They didn’t.

Now lawmakers, through a process grounded in the Texas Constitution, can and should deny administrative funding for the commission beginning next week, the start of the new state fiscal year.

The Legislature cannot back down. Its members cannot allow state agencies to set their own rules without oversight. The people of Texas did not elect them to abandon control.

Racing commission leaders seem to believe an appeal to the courts will save them. But there is no constitutional guarantee of funding to the commission or the racing industry, and no court should interfere with the Legislature’s decision-making.