Growth Seen in Support for Racetrack VLTs in Texas

Officials in Texas said support for racetrack gaming continues to grow in state government and in communities with pari-mutuel facilities.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the state comptroller, has said video lottery terminals at racetracks could generate revenue for public schools. Gov. Rick Perry, who is against expanded gambling, said he wouldn't veto legislation that allows the Texas Lottery Commission to continue operating. The bill may include an amendment to authorize VLTs through the commission.

Greg Talley, director of external affairs for the Texas Association of Business, said response from the public on the issue of racetrack VLTs has been positive.

"I've been on the road talking about VLTs, and I haven't gotten any negative responses from the press I've spoken to," Talley said. "It has been all pretty good so far, especially in places with an economic stake in a racetrack."

Texas has eight operating pari-mutuel facilities, five of which offer horse racing. Lone Star Park, Retama Park, and Sam Houston Race Park are Class 1 facilities, Manor Downs is a Class 2 facility, and the Gillespie County Fair is a Class 3 facility.

The other operating tracks offer Greyhound racing: Corpus Christi Greyhound Race Track, Gulf Greyhound Park, and Valley Race Park.

Licenses have been issued for horse racing at the Austin Jockey Club and Saddle Brook Park in Amarillo.

The Texas Horsemen's Partnership, the Texas Racing Agri-Industry Council, and the Texas Thoroughbred Association have been involved in the effort.

"In the last 10 days, the chances (for racetrack VLTs) went from 60-40 or lower to 70-30 or higher," TTA executive director Dave Hooper said.

Estimates for revenue from VLTs in Texas have been as high as $1 billion every two years. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in March, and hearings continue to be held.

The racing industry has come up with some projections. Hooper said "conservative estimates" have average daily purses at Lone Star, the state's flagship track, at $450,000. At Sam Houston, purses would average $350,000 to $375,000 a day.

Hooper said the estimates depend on the number of machines, and how much money gamblers put into them, in a state with more than 21 million people. If projections hold true, "it would be absolutely huge," Hooper said.

Based on 2002 statistics, Lone Star, with $450,000 a day in purses, would move to fifth on the national list behind only Keeneland, Saratoga, Belmont Park, and Del Mar. If Sam Houston offered $375,000 a day in purses, it would be second only to California during the late fall and winter months based on the 2002 numbers.

Texas is facing a $9.9 billion budget shortfall. The VLT proposal floated by Strayhorn was one of 42 recommendations she made regarding revenue-producers for the state.