Thirty-six thousand jobs in the $5.5-billion-dollar horse-racing industry are now at stake after lawmakers, late last night, failed to grant the Texas Racing Commission administrative funding so it could continue operating.
Disagreement arose between the House and the Senate about the length that the TRC's funding would last, resulting in no resolution and the shutdown of major Texas race tracks, including Sam Houston Race Park. While the Senate planned to grant the TRC only three months' worth of administrative funding by late afternoon Monday, the House was set to give the commission the full $1.5 billion over the next two years it would need to keep running. Neither plan went through by the midnight deadline.
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TRC spokesman Robert Elrod said in an email he is hopeful that the shutdown is only temporary and that the funding will be restored.
Last week, the commission, at the urging of thousands of people in the horse-racing industry, voted to uphold the controversial "historical racing" rules — a new type of gambling at the tracks where past races run on a simulcast video. The industry has maintained that this small expansion could help save the struggling horse tracks. But given the Legislature's outright disapproval of historical racing, arguing it resembled slot machines, many in the industry speculated that if the commission did not repeal the rules, the Legislative Budget Board wouldn't grant the funding. And based on a statement by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, they weren't too far off on that guess.
“We have been looking for a way to avoid a shutdown,” Nelson said. "Last week's actions were disappointing, and we cannot look the other way when an agency exceeds its authority, defies the Constitution and picks fights with the Legislature."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick echoed Nelson, saying that the three months would be time enough for the commission to "adjust their focus from expansion of gaming" and back to the races exclusively. For now, at least, the commission is focusing efforts on finding a way to keep the races alive at all.