by Raymond Whelan
Texas racing officials received a boost to their spirits after Gov. Rick Perry announced he would support the installation of video lottery terminals at racetracks in the state.
During an April 8 speech before San Antonio high school students, Perry said VLTs and other money-raising measures would help Texas support its public schools. Nearly $2 billion could flow from VLTs to the public school budget during the next three years if the expanded gaming is legalized, officials said.
Strong support for VLTs already has come from the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, the Texas Thoroughbred Association, the Texas Agri-Industry Council, and other groups.
"(VLTs) would help Texas become the number one racing state in the country," said Doug Vair, Retama Park publicity director. "There's no question in my mind about that."
Texas five operational horse racetracks, two non-operational horse racetracks, and three Greyhound tracks. Plus, plans are under way to open a new horse track in Laredo. Total live handle at the five operational horse tracks for 348 racing days in 2003 totaled $72.5 million, down nearly 11% from 2002 and nearly 16% from 2001.
Most officials believe regional competition has prompted the decline, particularly from tracks that have VLTs or slot machines and the means to offer increasingly higher purses than Texas tracks. According to a recent Retama press release, Texas racing fans spend about $800 million to $1 billion annually at racetracks in neighboring states, and a significant amount of that money goes to their public schools.
"We should immediately stop providing money to education systems in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma through the expenditures of Texans," the release said.
Last September, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared voters must approve an amendment to the state constitution before the state lottery commission can move forward with VLTs. Many observers believe the state legislature will meet in special session sometime this year to debate public school finance and consider VLT proposals.