No VLTs, But Task Force Offers Hope in Texas

Racetrack VLTs again failed to pick up enough steam in the Texas legislature.

by Shelby Downs

Once again, the Texas legislature concluded its biannual session without passing a bill to legalize video lottery terminal at the state’s racetracks. But the potential for a task force on the racing industry offers some hope for assistance.

Texas horsemen have been pushing for VLTs for nearly a decade to make the state’s racing industry more competitive with the alternative gaming-fueled purses in the neighboring states of Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

“The dollars flowing to Texas from the federal stimulus package helped plug holes in the budget dike, so legislators didn’t need to seek new sources of revenue,” Texas Thoroughbred Association executive director David Hooper said. “There won’t be a similar package in 2011, and there are already indications that legislators will have to address a significant budget shortfall next time around.

“Texas legislators approved pari-mutuel wagering in the mid-1980s and the Texas Lottery in 1991 at times when the state had significant budget deficits. In 2011, Texas will need new revenue. Hopefully, the industry can survive two years.”

Though the VLT bill had not made it out of committee hearings by the time the legislature adjourned June 1, lawmakers did vote on and approve a measure recommending that Gov. Rick Perry create a Governor’s Task Force on Racing that will consider ways to improve the viability of the state’s racing industry. The task force will also review the Texas Racing Act, seek to uncover ways to increase revenue and jobs in racing, suggest improvements for the conditions of backstretch workers, and determine how best to increase the sport’s popularity.

A cross-section of members of the racing industry and business experts will be included on the task force, which will report its findings and recommendations in the next legislative session.

“If (Perry) creates a Governor's Task Force on Horse and Greyhound Racing, the door will be open to look at all aspects of the Texas racing and breeding industries as well as the regulatory structure and see where Texas is out of step with other states and behind the times in the use of today’s technology,” Hooper said. “The task force work could significantly broaden the focus beyond just VLTs at Texas tracks.”

The legislature will not meet again until January 2011, but a special session could be a possibility because a crucial piece of legislation that provides funding for several key state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, was not approved.

The Texas Racing Commission is one of the agencies whose appropriations for the upcoming biennium weren’t set, but language within the Texas Racing Act will provide for the commission’s existence as long as any racetrack within the state is hosting live race meets.