Texas Industry Still Hoping for Gaming Vote

The regular session of the Texas legislature concluded without tossing so much as a crumb toward horse racing, but the state's racing industry remains hopeful lawmakers could soon consider video lottery terminals for racetracks.

In a legislative session that has been roundly criticized in the media for its ineffectiveness, lawmakers considered such pressing issues as where to go hunting but they failed to overhaul financing for the state's schools. Last September, state District Judge John Dietz ruled the state's system for financing schools is unconstitutional, and he ordered the state to correct it before October or stop funding public education.

The Texas Supreme Court will hear an appeal of that ruling July 6, but probably won't issue a ruling until the fall.

The next regular legislative session is scheduled for 2007, but Gov. Rick Perry has indicated a special session may be necessary to address financing for public education. During such a session, the issue of the VLTs could surface.

"We're hopeful we can be part of the solution (to the school financing problem)," said Lone Star Park president Corey Johnsen, who since January has spent most of his time in the state capital. He said the racing industry "came together" during the recent legislative session and made "tremendous progress" toward educating lawmakers.

"I believe we had the votes to pass VLTs at racetracks," Johnsen said, "but we just ran out of time. The opposition, through some strategic maneuvering, was able to keep the issue from being heard."

Off-track and account wagering aren't legal in Texas, and the industry faces competition from casino-style gambling in neighboring Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

"This is critical for our industry in Texas," Johnsen said. "We've made progress, and we need to continue to have a strong effort. I think we can accomplish this."