12/08/2015 2:58PM

Historical racing hot subject for Texas commission meeting

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The topic of historical racing machines has been placed on the Dec. 15 meeting agenda of the Texas Racing Commission, according to the agency’s spokesman, Robert Elrod.

Historical racing machines are similar to slot machines, with payoffs based on the results of past races. Although rules were put in place in 2014, historical racing machines have yet to operate in Texas.

On Dec. 15, the commission has three options regarding historical racing. It can vote to repeal rules put in place in 2014; vote to republish the proposed rules that would repeal historical racing for a 30-day public comment period, which would allow the commission to take up the vote to repeal the rules at a future meeting; or it can take no action on the matter, which would keep the existing rules in place.

The meeting on Dec. 15 also will usher in a new commission chairman. On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott informed the commission that Rolando Pablos will replace Robert Schmidt, who has resigned from the chairman’s post. Schmidt will continue to serve on the commission, said Elrod. Pablos was one of two new individuals appointed to the commission by Abbott in November. A resident of El Paso, Pablos is a past chairman of the Texas Racing Commission and serves as chief executive officer of Borderplex Alliance, which describes itself as a "regional non-profit organization dedicated to economic development."

Last week, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sent a letter to Schmidt urging the commission to repeal historical racing rules at its Dec. 15 meeting. The commission’s initial adoption of those rules was legally challenged by charitable bingo and tribal interests. A judge ruled the agency did not have the jurisdiction to pass historical racing and that it was a legislative matter.

The rules came up for repeal at a commission meeting this past August, but the panel upheld the legality of historical racing. About a week later, racing in Texas was shut down for a day when the state’s legislative budget board failed to approve funding for the commission’s operational expenses by a fiscal deadline. A temporary plan was then announced enabling the commission to operate through Nov. 30. Last month, that plan was extended through Feb. 29.

Patrick’s letter to Schmidt, released to the media, said in part, “I ask that you take this opportunity to unwind historical racing and return the commission to its statutory purpose of enforcing the Texas Racing Act and its rules to ensure the safety, integrity, and fairness of Texas pari-mutuel racing. Additionally, I am committed to gathering stakeholders together – horse breeders, trainers, and other associated and affiliated agri-business – to find ways to improve opportunities outside of expanding the gambling footprint in Texas.”

The Texas Thoroughbred Association, which represents 1,100 owners and breeders in the state, last week issued a response to Patrick. The TTA, along with other factions of the state’s breeding and racing industry, have appealed the judge’s original ruling on historical racing.

“I want to express deep disappointment with your stance as evidenced in your letter of Dec. 1, 2015, addressed to Texas Racing Commission chairman Dr. Robert Schmidt, encouraging him to hold yet another vote on the historic horse racing rules at their next meeting, and repeal the rules that were adopted after a lengthy, transparent and inclusive process,” Mary Ruyle, executive director of the TTA, wrote in a letter released to the media. “As acknowledged in your Nov. 4, 2015, letter to industry representatives, the matter of historical racing remains pending before the Third Court of Appeals. Due process under the law is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”  

The next race meet in Texas is the Sam Houston season for Thoroughbreds, which opens Jan. 15 and runs into March.