11/07/2015 9:24AM

Texas Racing Commission funded through February


Texas racing is in business through at least the month of February.

The state’s legislative budget board on Friday gave the Texas Racing Commission authority to temporarily fund its operations for 90 days. The new extension will follow the current funding plan that ends Nov. 30.

Texas racing was facing a potential shutdown Dec. 1. The funding conflict stems from an August vote by the commission not to repeal rules for historical racing it put in place in 2014.

The commission’s adoption of those rules was legally challenged by charitable bingo and tribal interests, and a judge ruled that the agency did not have the jurisdiction to pass historical racing and that the matter was for the legislature. The decision has been appealed by some racing factions in the state, while historical racing machines have never been operational in Texas.   

The latest funding plan was approved following the Friday appointments of new commissioners by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The new appointments are Margaret Martin and Rolando Pablos, while Gary Aber was reappointed to the panel.   

“This is a good first step toward getting back on track, so we are giving the agency the time it needs to chart a new course,” Texas Sen. Jane Nelson said in a release. “Hopefully, with new commissioners, we can start seeing this agency adhere to the constitution, operate within the law, and recognize that the legislature – not the racing commission – makes the law in Texas.”

The release issued by Nelson said the commission’s passage of historical racing rules goes against a section in the state’s constitution that “prohibits gambling in Texas except for activities expressly approved by the legislature and voters.” There is no gaming, offtrack betting or account wagering permitted in Texas.

The legislative budget board appropriated $15.4 million to the commission for two years but made the agency’s administrative funds subject to legislative budget board approval. According to the release from Nelson, the plan announced Friday does not approve the release of administrative funds but enables the commission to use other funding to keep operations afloat for another 90-day period.

Some in the Texas racing industry were disappointed in the temporary nature of the funding announced Friday. Sam Houston Race Park will be in the midst of a meet for Thoroughbreds in February, and the breeding season will just be starting, said Jan Haynes, president of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership.

“The 90 days puts us right back where we were,” Haynes said. “It’s irresponsible to operate on 90 days. It doesn’t get us through Houston. The breeding season will be starting. This is just going to cost more jobs.”

The Texas Horsemen’s Partnership, as well as the Texas Thoroughbred Association, the Texas Quarter Horse Association, and Sam Houston, have appealed the judge’s ruling in a case that could have its initial hearing the first week of December.

The live racing season in Texas closes Nov. 14 with the end of the Quarter Horse meet at Lone Star Park. Sam Houston’s meet for Thoroughbreds opens in January and runs into March, but a number of horsemen in the state have already sent stables to Delta Downs in Louisiana, while others are seeking stalls at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and Sunland Park in New Mexico.

Haynes said her organization has requested a meeting with the offices of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“We want to explain to them what the horse industry means to Texas,” she said.