Historical Racing Debate Continues in Texas

Group responds to opposition from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The Texas horse racing industry's squabble with key politicians over the future of historical racing continued this week in the form of dueling letters.

The Texas Thoroughbred Association, which represents 1,100 Thoroughbred racehorse owners and breeders in the state, issued a statement Dec. 3 in the form of a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who made a written appeal Dec. 1 for the Texas Racing Commission to "unwind historical racing."

Patrick's letter was sent because the TRC is meeting Dec. 15, and he is a staunch opponent of the commission's decision last year to publish rules for historical racing, a form of electronic gaming that looks similar to slot machines but bases payoffs on a pari-mutuel formula. The TTA's letter to Patrick noted that the rules were adopted properly by the TRC. 

"I want to express deep disappointment with your stance as evidenced in your letter (and press release) of Dec. 1, 2015, addressed to Texas Racing Commission Chairman Dr. Robert Schmidt, encouraging him to hold yet another vote on the historic horse racing rules at their next meeting, and repeal the rules that were adopted after a lengthy, transparent and inclusive process," said TTA executive director Mary Ruyle in the letter to Patrick. "As acknowledged in your Nov. 4, 2015, letter to industry representatives, the matter of historical racing remains pending before the Third Court of Appeals. Due process under the law is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. By your most recent press release, it appears that you may wish to disregard the right of Texans to due process through the court system."

In Patrick's letter he stated the TRC acted improperly in adopting the historical racing rules.

"As I have previously stated, I believe the decision to publish rules for the implementation of historical racing was not an appropriate action for the commission," Patrick wrote. "The move runs afoul of the Texas Constitution and the express desire of many members of the Texas Legislature, including me.

"I ask that you take this opportunity to unwind historical racing and return the Commission to its statutory purpose of enforcing the Texas Racing Act and its rules to ensure the safety, integrity, and fairness of Texas pari-mutuel racing. Additionally, I am committed to gathering stakeholders together—horse breeders, trainers, and other associated and affiliated agri-business—to find ways to improve opportunities outside of expanding the gambling footprint in Texas. I want to restore certainty and predictability to the industry and allow them to prosper moving forward."

The TTA formally requested a meeting with Patrick to provide him with information on historical racing, but to date, reports that request has gone unanswered. The TTA has made another request for a meeting with Patrick and added a requested that full funding be provided to the TRC while the matter of historical racing is resolved by the courts.

The withholding of funds from the TRC has already damaged the racing and breeding industry in Texas when it led to a one-day shutdown of all racing and simulcasting Sept. 1. The TRC was granted 90-days of funding on Sept. 2, which has been extended another 90s at the end of last month. The continuing funding in 90-day increments has only delayed the uncertainty facing horsemen, according to the TTA.