Other Voices

We must save the horse racing industry in Texas

Jockey Charles Lopez and Majestic City win the $200,000 Lone Star Handicap on May 25.
Jockey Charles Lopez and Majestic City win the $200,000 Lone Star Handicap on May 25. Special to the Star-Telegram

In Texas, we take great pride in our state and all that it’s known for — warm people, hot summers and hottest salsas; wide-open spaces; storied history; business opportunities; food; music; ranches and farms; and, of course, cattle and horses.

The horse is a significant part of our state’s history and heritage. Today more than half a million Texans — men and women — call themselves horsemen.

As our state has grown, so has our horse industry. Texas is home to more than 1 million horses, generating more than $5.2 billion in Texas each year and a workforce with close to 100,000 employees.

Sadly, Texas horse racing — an important part of our horse industry and our state’s legacy — is in a slow decline.

It’s impossible for our tracks to compete with neighboring states, which offer casinos, bigger crowds and larger purses. The very existence of Texas horse racing is threatened.

In an effort to stay competitive, in a state that has historically disapproved of casinos and video lottery terminals at tracks, the Texas Racing Commission introduced historical racing terminals, which allow players to bet on replays of horse races that have already been run.

This would be just the lifeline our struggling industry needs.

Unfortunately, some elected officials are so strongly opposed to historical racing terminals that Senate leaders dragged their feet on including the Texas Racing Commission in the proposed state budget.

Although a line item was inserted at the 11th hour, the Legislative Budget Board now must officially approve about $750,000 of the commission’s budget by Nov. 30.

If this funding is not approved, the Texas Racing Commission will not be able to pay its employees or its rent and will cease to exist. Horse tracks in Texas would also close.

This would be a tremendous loss to our great state. In addition to losing a piece of our heritage, we would lose the remarkable economic benefit that horse racing provides for our state, including numerous jobs.

These are our friends and neighbors, people in communities across Texas, who would be out of work.

Many Texans enjoy horse racing. If the Texas Racing Commission and Texas horse tracks close, horse racing enthusiasts would have no choice but to spend their dollars in other states.

The history of horse racing in Texas is filled with ups and downs. For 50 years beginning in 1937, we had no horse racing.

Texas horsemen did their best to keep racing and horse breeding alive while fighting to return pari-mutuel racing to the state. Finally, in 1987, Texans voted to legalize pari-mutuel wagering.

Even with the challenges we’ve faced, the horse racing industry and horsemen in Texas have persevered. Retama Park, Sam Houston Race Park, Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie and the Gillespie County Fairgrounds are open today.

Texas is at the top of the game for breeding quarter horse racehorses. Three of the American Quarter Horse Association’s 2014 champions were Texas-bred, and of the top 20 current AQHA sires in terms of 2015 earnings, four are standing in Texas.

We have a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot to fight for.

We respectfully request that the Legislative Budget Board approve funding for the Texas Racing Commission and look ahead to the 2017 Legislative Session for long-term solutions to preserving horse racing in Texas.

Horse breeders, ranchers, horse racing enthusiasts and residents across Texas are depending on it.

Kay Helzer is president of the Texas Quarter Horse Association.