Protect Our State’s Horse Heritage: Save the Horse Racing Industry in Texas

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texas Here in Texas, we take great pride in our state and all that it’s known for—our warm people, hot summers and hottest salsas; our wide-open spaces; our storied history; business opportunities; food; music; ranches and farms; and of course, cattle and horses. 

The horse is a significant part of our state’s history and heritage. Our forefathers were among the first Texas horsemen, and today more than half a million Texans—men and women—call themselves horsemen.

As our state has grown, so has our horse industry. Today, Texas is home to more than 1 million horses, generating more than $5.2 billion dollars in Texas each year and a workforce with close to 100,000 employees.

Sadly, Texas horse racing—an important part of our horse industry and our state’s legacy—is in a slow decline. It’s impossible for our tracks to compete with neighboring states, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, which offer casinos, bigger crowds and larger purses. Today, the very existence of Texas horse racing is being threatened. 

In an effort to stay competitive, in a state that has historically disapproved of casinos and video lottery terminals at tracks, the Texas Racing Commission introduced Historical Racing Terminals, which allow players to bet on replays of horse races that have already been run. This would be just the lifeline our struggling industry needs.

Unfortunately, elected officials in Texas are so strongly opposed to Historical Racing Terminals that Senate leaders dragged their feet on including the Texas Racing Commission in the proposed state budget this year. Although a line item was finally inserted at the eleventh hour, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB)—made up of 10 legislative leaders—now must officially approve approximately $750,000 of the commission’s budget. The LBB has until Nov. 30, 2015, to do so.

If this funding is not approved, the Texas Racing Commission will no longer be able to pay its employees or its rent, and therefore, it will cease to exist. If the organization closes, horse tracks in Texas would also close.

This would be a tremendous loss to our great state. In addition to losing a piece of our heritage, we would lose the remarkable economic benefit that horse racing provides for our state, including numerous Texas jobs. There are people who care for horses, including folks who make horseshoes, horse transporters, trainers, large-animal veterinarians, breeders and others. There are others who work at tracks, such as groundskeepers, event managers, catering staff, bookmakers, flag operators and many, many more. Then there are related industries, including agriculture, food services and transportation, to name just a few. These are our friends and neighbors, people in communities across Texas, who would be out of work.

Like the rest of America, Texans love horses and enjoy horse racing. If the Texas Racing Commission and Texas horse tracks close, Texas horse racing enthusiasts would have no choice but to spend their dollars in other states.

We’ve been here before. The history of horse racing in Texas is filled with ups and downs. For 50 years we had no horse racing in Texas, beginning in 1937. Texas horsemen did their best to keep Texas racing and horse breeding alive while fighting to return pari-mutuel racing to Texas. It was a long struggle, and finally, in 1987, Texans voted to legalize pari-mutuel wagering in the state.  

Since then, a number of racetracks have hosted horse racing in Texas, including Bandera Downs, the Gillespie County Fairgrounds, Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, Manor Downs, Retama Park, Sam Houston Race Park and Trinity Meadows Raceway. 

Even with the challenges we’ve faced, the horse racing industry and horsemen in Texas have persevered. Retama Park, Sam Houston Race Park, Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie and the Gillespie County Fairgrounds are open today.

Texas tracks have hosted some of the top Quarter Horse events in the nation. And Texas is at the top of the game for breeding Quarter Horse racehorses. Three of the American Quarter Horse Association’s 2014 champions were Texas-bred, and of the top 20 current AQHA sires in terms of 2015 earnings, four are standing in Texas.

We have a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot to fight for. 

If you want to preserve Texas horse racing like I do, please consider contacting your state Representative or Senator or a member of the Legislative Budget Board:

The Hon. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor

The Hon. Joe Straus, Speaker of the House of Representatives

The Hon. Kevin Eltife, State Senator (R-Tyler)

The Hon. Craig Estes, State Senator (R-Wichita Falls)

The Hon. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, State Senator (D-McAllen)

The Hon. Jane Nelson, State Senator (R-Flower Mound)

The Hon. Drew Darby, State Representative (R-San Angelo)

The Hon. John Otto, State Representative (R-Dayton)

The Hon. Sylvester Turner, State Representative (D-Houston)

The Hon. John Zerwas, State Representative (R-Richmond)

Respectfully request that the board approve funding for the Texas Racing Commission and look ahead to the 2017 Legislative Session for long-term solutions to preserving horse racing in Texas. 

Horse breeders, ranchers, horse racing enthusiasts and citizens across Texas are depending on them. 

Kay Helzer is president of the Texas Quarter Horse Association.

 

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