10/30/2017 3:26PM

Texas tracks look to pare dates for 2018

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The Texas Racing Commission, which has been battling a budget crisis, will consider adopting a new licensing-fee schedule for the state’s tracks and a reduced racing calendar for next year during a Nov. 8 meeting in Austin.

The new fee schedule would provide for 20 days of regulatory oversight per year for each of the Class 1 tracks – Lone Star Park, Sam Houston, and Retama Park – plus a fee of $6,313 for each additional date of racing. The base fee for an annual Class 1 license also is proposed to increase from $500,000 to $700,000. Since the proposal, some tracks have submitted amended dates requests for 2018.

Lone Star, which has been running a 50-date meet for Thoroughbreds, has requested a 44-date meet for next year, from April 19 through July 22, according to information provided by the commission. The track also has asked for a 16-date meet for Quarter Horses from Sept. 21 to Nov. 10, down from the current 26-date meet.

Retama, in a format change, has requested a 25-date mixed meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses from July 6 through Sept. 5. There would be Thoroughbred racing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Quarter Horse racing on Fridays and Saturdays, although the track would not conduct live racing on the weekends when the Gillespie County Fair runs. Retama is in the midst of a 22-date meet for Thoroughbreds and earlier this year conducted a 20-date meet for Quarter Horses.

Sam Houston has already been granted its Thoroughbred dates for 2018, with the track to run 32 days for Thoroughbreds – similar to 2017 – from Jan. 19 through March 17. Sam Houston has asked for 20 dates for Quarter Horses, March 16 to May 11, down from 24 in 2017.

Gillespie runs a mixed meet and has already been granted its traditional eight dates on weekends in July and August.

Gillespie was among a group of five tracks – including two greyhound tracks and two inactive facilities – that informed the commission in August they would not be renewing their licenses on Sept. 1. However, after a few weeks, those entities reactivated their licenses and are paying license fees, according to commission spokesman Robert Elrod.

As part of the proposed new annual track-fee schedule, Class 2 facilities –including inactive ones – would see fees drop from $230,000 to $125,000, while greyhound-track fees would drop from $360,000 to $200,000. The license for a Class 3 or Class 4 track, which covers Gillespie, would drop from $70,000 to $35,000.

The nonpayment of license fees by three inactive tracks this past year has been one of the contributing factors to the budget crisis.

The commission is accepting public comment on the proposed rule change through Friday. The Texas Thoroughbred Association and the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership have expressed opposition to the increase in track license fees due to the potential for a further reduction in race dates. The state’s racing industry is half the size it was in 2004, according to documentation by the commission.

The fee-increase proposal was initially brought forward by some of the state’s tracks in order to be able to maintain racing in the state during the commission budget crisis. There can be no racing or simulcasting without regulatory oversight by the commission.

The commission also could consider adopting an increase in occupational license fees for such individuals as owners, trainers, and jockeys starting in 2018.

Texas is surrounded by states that have gaming operations at their tracks, supplementing purses. There is no gaming, offtrack betting, or account wagering allowed in Texas, which has several major population centers.

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