December 15, 2015
Eric Mitchell, Blood-Horse

Rules created to establish historical racing in Texas remain intact after the state’s racing commission took its second vote in four months to repeal them.

Following two hours of testimony at a Dec. 15 meeting in Austin, the Texas Racing Commission voted 4-4-1 on the question to repeal rules adopted in 2014 for the implementation and operation of an electronic game that uses the results of previously run horse races to determine the outcomes. Because the vote resulted in no clear majority, the rules remain in place.

“We applaud the Racing Commission for taking a calm and studied approach to historical racing,” said Marsha Rountree, executive director of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership. “We hope the commission will ultimately decide that the hard-working families of the Texas horse industry are at least due their day in court.”

In November 2014, a district judge ruled that TRC had exceeded its authority in promulgating historical racing rules, but that ruling is now before the Third Court of Appeals and horse racing industry leaders would like to see the issue resolved by the courts instead of being decided by political leaders who have repeatedly pressed the commission to repeal the rules.

In a Nov. 4 letter, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged commissioners to reconsider historical racing and instead “focus on their statutory purpose of enforcing the Texas Racing Act and ensuring the safety, integrity, and fairness of Texas pari-mutuel wagering.” Patrick added that the state Senate does not believe the TRC has the authority to expand gambling.

Later in the Dec. 15 meeting commissioners did vote unanimously to republish the rules, which opens them up to review and public comment for 30 days. After the review period, it is at the commission’s discretion about taking another vote on the rules, according to political observers.

Leaving the historical racing rules in place leaves questions swirling about continued funding for the TRC. After the Aug. 25 vote that left historical racing rules in place, the state Legislative Budget Board voted to withhold operating funds from the TRC, resulting in a one-day shutdown of live racing and simulcasting statewide. On Sept. 2 the LBB, of which Patrick is the co-chairman, restored funding but only for 90 days. The funding was extended for another 90 days at the end of November.

New commission chairman Rolando Pablos told TRC staffers to “prepare a plan for shutting down the agency,” according to a report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Pablos is a former commission chairman who was reappointed last month by Gov. Greg Abbott, who also opposes historical racing.

“But it seems to me that I’ve come back to this commission at a time when this one silver bullet that was supposed to help this industry … is creating unintended consequences … (and) putting this agency in peril,” the Star-Telegram quoted Pablos. “I truly believe this agency is in crisis.”

Rountree said now is the time for Texas—specifically the LBB—to put politics aside and look for solutions.

“Fund the agency in accordance with the will of the legislature so that no further damage is done to an industry already in hard times,” said Rountree. “There are 36,000 jobs and the entire Texas horse industry on the line.”