Monday night the Texas Racing Commission ordered Sam Houston Race Park, Gulf Greyhound Park and all of the state’s racetracks to shut down operations. It was the culmination of a funding battle between the TRC and the state Legislature, a combination of shoddy politics and mismanagement by the commission.
For a background and more details, this is a pretty good breakdown.
The big question is how did we get here?
It’s a combination of a state government that refuses to support horse racing, an ineffectively run commission overseeing the sport and lobbyists from neighboring states continuing to influence the Legislature’s refusal to expand gambling. And, of course, simple stubbornness.
Caught in the middle are the state’s race tracks, 36,000 industry-related jobs and every fan of the sport.
A statement from Sam Houston Race Park’s Andrea Young sums it up pretty well:
“After an entire summer with the cloud of a shutdown hanging over the industry’s head, I am bewildered that certain members of the Texas Senate appear to have blocked the release of essential funds to the Texas Racing Commission, We thank our friends in the Legislature and other branches of government who have fought to protect the Texas racing industry and the hard-working individuals it employs. The legislature did not intend this result, which will now shutter Texas racing facilities, putting thousands of jobs at risk. We believe that this result is irresponsible. We urge the Lieutenant Governor to stand up for 36,000 jobs now before this goes any further.
In the meantime, we will continue to examine our legal options. We plan to continue our fight for all the hardworking Texans that make up the Texas Horse industry.”
So what does all this mean? Live racing and simulcasting cease immediately. It’s not a result anyone wanted. But ineptitude on all sides made it happen. Hopefully, wiser heads will prevail and a compromise will be reached before this drags out much longer. But for now, everything closed at midnight.
There is no shortage of people to blame. The state Racing Commission likely overstepped its bounds by approving an Instant Racing game, essentially a slot game featuring past races (although they legally vetted it and had support within the industry). The big mistake was drawing a line in the sand with a Legislature that has consistently opposed expanded gaming while continuing to support and push the worst type of gambling — the state sponsored lottery.
The commission itself has often been an overbearing, inefficient organization. The attempt to circumvent the Legislature was a desperate move that clearly backfired.
As for the bigger villains, the Legislature is guilty for the fact that they will not even discuss expanding gaming — or better yet, let the people vote on it. It is simply inexcusable. Texans are supporting other gaming in surrounding states, and millions in potential tax dollars are being sent across the border.
Meanwhile in Texas, underground poker rooms, casinos and 8-liner rooms thrive, with more potential tax dollars going down the drain. Allowing this has already killed some tracks and seriously wounded others. Only well-run operations — like Sam Houston and Lone Star — are operating on a model where they can succeed.
So rather than entertain expanded gambling for tracks, the government supports illegal operations and surrounding states’ economies.
It is a perfect storm of foolishness and hypocrisy.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. A deal could still be struck after a couple days. The racetracks could be put under another state agency, which might be the best solution longterm. Even the most hardcore of legislators does not want to shut down the industry. They have, but they are not the only ones to blame. It’s hard to believe this could last more than a day or two. But that’s being logical.
The questions now are simple. Who will step up and solve this? What deal will be made to fix this before jobs are lost permanently? And what about practical issues? If you own a winning ticket from last week, how do you cash it? (Young is scheduled to be on our show today on 97.5 FM in Houston to hopefully provide some answers).
I believe it will get worked out. It simply makes too much sense. But we are dealing with two of the most incompetent groups on the planet — the TRC and the State Legislature. What could possibly go wrong?