By Shelby Downs
When the Texas legislature convenes Jan. 13, a bill to legalize alternative gaming at the state’s racetracks is ready to be filed. The Texas racing industry has angled for video lottery terminals for the past decade, but in 2009, business will not be as usual.
For the first time, all of the state’s racing breed organizations have come together to form a united front known as Texas Horse Organizations for Racing, Showing, and Eventing (Texas HORSE), a group that includes several national organizations headquartered in Texas—the American Quarter Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association, and American Paint Horse Association. The organizations are backing the VLT effort because of a provision of the bill dedicating a portion of alternative gaming revenue to the performance side of the industry, a new idea titled the Performance Horse Development Fund.
“The idea became planted because of what I saw with (the Kentucky Equine Education Project) and knowing that Texas has a rich horse heritage, more horses than any other state and three organizations’ national headquarters here,” said David Hooper, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association. “It just seemed logical with projections showing there would be enough revenue for the performance side. It in turn brings a huge grassroots backing and led to the formation of Texas HORSE.”
Val Clark, a veteran of the Texas show scene, heads up Texas HORSE as its executive director.
“We’re trying to create something that can help every single horse person in the state of Texas,” Clark said. “It’s not just about horses at the racetracks. It’s all-inclusive. We’re going to need the support of every single horse person in the state.”
One of the goals of Texas HORSE is to create a grassroots network that involves participants in the horse industry from every breed and discipline.
“This isn’t a gambling bill; it’s a horse bill,” said Peter Rottgers of Texas HORSE. “The horse industry has a $5-billion impact on the Texas economy. It’s an enormous but invisible industry. If the Texas equine industry goes away, you have a huge void.”
Aside from the Performance Horse Development Fund, the new bill includes “Good for Texas” provisions, which dedicate revenue to equine research, retirement and adoption, gambling addiction programs, drug testing and research, educational programs, and insurance coverage for horsemen and jockeys, while also guaranteeing a satisfactory number of live racing days.
“I believe we’ve created a bill that can serve as a model for any state,” Hooper said.
The 2009 session of the Texas legislature ends on Memorial Day.
The Texas horse industry got a boost recently when Joe Straus III, son of Retama Park chairman Joe Straus Jr., was named Speaker of the House, a position important to the movement of bills through the legislature.