“Lean Times shoot down Texas Racing Industry

The sport of horse racing is slowly deteriorating in Texas, it would seem as officials at Retama Park are proposing to scratch the 2007 Thoroughbred racing season and shift to a winter meet, January through March of 2008.

The shift would allow Retama Park time to recover money by building its purse structure through simulcast wagering — which will continue and enable Retama to attract more horses and offer higher purses, according to track officials.

By running from January – March, when other tracks are shut down, it will provide the opportunity for more horses to compete in Texas.  

The lean times for Texas racing are being blamed on the lack of video gaming, which supplements racing income in most other states.

Tracks in neighboring Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana offer slot machines that supplement larger purses and generate a large revenue for those states and quite a bit of that money is being dropped by gamblers from Texas. Slot machines are illegal in Texas and many people in the horse racing and dog racing industries complain that the competition is killing the industry and will eventually drive them out of Texas or out of business.

We requested Governor Rick Perry’s stance on video lottery terminals and received this small response.  “In regards to video lottery terminals, the Texas Lottery Commission cannot operate video lottery games without specific legislative authority. Legislation was introduced during the 2005 regular session of the legislature that would have authorized the commission to operate video lottery games and licensed racetracks across the state. However, this legislation did not pass.”

In 2004 Governor Perry supported the concept of video lottery terminals at existing tracks within Texas.  It seems to this paper that he abandoned the racing industry very quickly and is now strongly opposed due to staying in the good graces and deep pockets of social and religious conservatives.

2006 Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman and Carol Keeton Strayhorn are in favor of video lottery terminals, could generate billions of dollars and allow Texas tracks to compete with neighboring states.  Money generated from video lottery terminals could assist in expanded property tax cuts, along with a much-needed boost for our public education system.

Public education in Texas is currently funded primarily through local property taxes and unless the state can increase its share of educational spending, the burden on local taxpayers will once again all onto the property owners with increases in property taxes.  VLTs at Texas tracks would provide property tax relief to Texas homeowners.
Ray Perryman, an economist in Waco, Texas analyzed the impact of horse and greyhound racing on business activity in Texas.  It was projected that video gaming would produce $1.5-billion per year would go to state revenue…almost a 90% net increase.  

Perryman’s summation was that with aggregate annual benefits of $10.8-billion in spending, $4.9-billing in output, and more than 77,000 permanent jobs, it is quite clear that allowing VLTs to operate at Texas tracks brings benefits across the broad spectrum of measures while meeting demands of Texas consumers for specific entertainment opportunities and providing almost $1.5-billion in yearly state revenue. In addition, VLTs would bring jobs, industry, and dollars back to Texas such as additional hotels and restaurants surrounding the track areas.

Retama isn’t the only track to experience lower numbers resulting in small purses, Lone Star Park and Sam Houston tracks have also experienced sharp declines in attendance and wager totals over the past five years, according to track officials. Since 2000, total Thoroughbred purses per year at Texas’ three tracks have declined 17.9% to $25,113,231. That percentage represents a drop of more than $5.4-million. The number of Thoroughbred races at the three tracks is down 13.3% to 1,779 and, despite a reduction in the number of races, average race purses are down 5.4% to $14,116.

Many Texas breeders are selling out, downsizing or opening operations in other states because they’re losing business.  Stoneview Farm owner Sue Dowling’s stallions would breed 100 mares a year – that number has decreased considerably.  The 600-acre farm was home to her family’s 30-45 mares and another 50-60 boarded for clients.  As state after state around Texas approved alternative gaming, those numbers dwindled.  Dowling’s three stallions covered fewer than 20 mares this season.  Dowling has cut her broodmares down and she now keeps six in Kentucky to take advantage of that state’s breeders’ incentive program.

This paper supports the Texas Horse Industry; we hope you choose your candidates carefully this month.  Without the support of our Texas lawmakers the Texas racing industry may fall by the wayside.

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