Texas Racing, Breeding Interests Meet With Legislators

Gaming issues are being widely discussed in Austin, Texas, as the state's legislators look for revenue that might enable them to overhaul school finance. And as part of the ongoing discussion, representatives of the Texas horse racing and breeding industries, including Sam Houston general manager Robert Bork, met Thursday with members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"They all at some point touched on the exodus of horses to other states, and on the need for a level playing field," said Dave Hooper, the executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, about the presentations before the committee.

In recent years, the playing field has tilted dramatically against Texas. The state does not permit account wagering or off-track betting, nor does it allow any other gaming at racetracks. Meanwhile, racetracks in neighboring states have been able to improve distribution, with off-track betting and account wagering, and to diversify their product with, in some cases, slot machines.

As a consequence, Hooper said, horses and horsemen have been leaving Texas, where purses are slipping, for more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.

But if lawmakers assist the struggling industry, they'll probably be moved more by need than sympathy. They simply may need the revenue, and video lottery terminals at racetracks could generate, according to projections, more than $1 billion annually for the state and many millions of dollars for purses.

Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston has filed a bill that would authorize the state's lottery commission to regulate video lottery. Rep. Kino Flores of Palmview has filed a bill to expand casino gaming. And Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth has proposed allowing the voters to decide the gaming issue directly.

Chairman Jim Keffer said he expects the Ways and Means Committee to approve a tax bill very soon, possibly this week. Gaming will not be part of such a bill. But a gaming bill, possibly one allowing for VLTs at racetracks, could arrive separately on the floor of the House later in the current session.