Horse racing industry must save itself


Horses make their way back to the paddock after a July 19 race at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.
Horses make their way back to the paddock after a July 19 race at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. Star-Telegram

There are two ways November could end for the horse racing industry in Texas:

Option 1: The Texas Racing Commission could reverse its approval of “historical racing” gambling machines at the tracks, in which case the Legislative Budget Board should approve funding for the commission’s administration and the tracks will continue to operate.

Option 2: The commission could refuse again to recognize legislative authority to decide about historical racing machines, in which case there should be no administrative funding. The commission will shut down, and so will the tracks.

There are no other ways out of this standoff, which has lasted more than a year.

This is not about whether it is right or wrong to have state-sanctioned gambling at horse tracks in Texas. Voters approved that in 1987, and simulcast betting became legal in 1991.

It’s not about whether the Texas racing industry needs to expand its sources of revenue in order to stay economically viable. There’s a good case to be made for that, and track owners and horse breeders can make it effectively.

It’s not about the $5.5 billion economic impact the racing industry has on the state or the 36,000 jobs it supports.

It’s about power — the power to decide where and how, on what machines or under what circumstances, gambling will be allowed in Texas. That power belongs to the people of Texas and their elected members of the Legislature, and lawmakers cannot yield it to the commission or anyone else.

The 1987 vote to allow racing created the Racing Commission and gave it some regulatory and administrative power.

An Austin judge has ruled that the commission does not have the power to decide the historical racing question. The commission is not fighting that ruling, but a coalition of racetracks has filed a motion to appeal.

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his office must fight that appeal vigorously. No industry can be allowed to thumb its nose at Texans.

Getting approval of this or any other gambling measure through the increasingly conservative Legislature could be difficult. Several such measures were introduced in the regular session earlier this year and went nowhere.

What did pass the Legislature was a budget that limited administrative funding for the commission and gave the Legislative Budget Board approval power over further allocations.

Initial funding expired Aug. 31, leading to an one-day shutdown of the commission and the tracks. Compromise funding was extended until Nov. 30.

The commission and the racing industry should come to their senses and push for what they want through the legislative process.