Historical racing is out, and the Texas Racing Commission is back in the money.
Last week, after more than a year of defying the state legislature by stubbornly keeping historical racing on the books, the Texas Racing Commission finally gave in and voted to repeal its previous approval of the controversial electronic gambling system.
And now, like magic, the Legislative Budget Board has smiled on the TRC, and the state agency finally has a fully funded budget. On Thursday morning, the Legislative Budget Board authorized the TRC to expend its Rider 7 appropriations, according to TRC spokesman Robert Elrod. This means that the agency is now fully funded for the remainder of the biennium, which extends through August 31, 2017, he says.
It's nice to know that, at least in this case, caving in to pressure from another government entity actually did pay off.
Mind you, this doesn't mean that the TRC ever actually changed its mind about historical racing. After all, both the commission and those in the Texas racing industry have insisted for years that historical racing was the only way to turn things around for the struggling Texas racing industry.
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The TRC first approved a statute adding historical racing — a setup in which people bet on races that are shown on video with all the identifying information about the race removed — to its books in August 2014. The decision was celebrated by those in the Texas racing industry, but the move drew the ire of state lawmakers who felt the TRC had gone behind their backs and expanded a form of gambling, as we've previously noted.
The Legislative Budget Board, which is packed with state lawmakers who are vehemently opposed to anything that even smells like an expansion of gambling in the Lone Star State, has been holding the TRC's funding hostage over this issue for months, funding the organization piecemeal as the year has progressed. (The TRC was even forced to briefly close last fall when it ran out of money.)
Despite the pressure, the TRC stuck to its guns for months and months. In December the commission deadlocked 4-4 on whether to take historical racing off the TRC books. In fact, the only thing that changed when TRC members voted once again on the issue last week is that this time around, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who technically has a seat on the commission through his office, decided to weigh in on the issue. Hegar sent a proxy who broke the tie, so that historical racing was repealed in a 5-4 vote, as we reported last week.
Now the Texas horse racing industry won't be getting rescued by historical racing, but on the upside, it gets to keep having a fully funded state racing commission, so the horses will keep getting to run. At least there's that.