Texan Race and Sports Wagering
Pari-mutuel wagering first became legal in Texas in 1933, only to be repealed, in 1937. Despite the fact that the American Quarter Horse Association, one of the largest equine breed registries in the world, was established in 1940 in Texas, it took the state Legislature until 1986 to pass the Texas Racing Act. In November 1987, pari-mutuel wagering was legal once again, when voters approved it in a statewide referendum. The Texas Racing Commission (TRC) was created by the Racing Act to control the racing industry by licensing racetracks and their employees, overseeing live racing events, and monitoring and certifying wagering transactions.
The Texas-Bred Incentive (TBI) Program was also authorized in the Racing Act to support the horse and greyhound breeding industries. The TBI program granted purse supplements and monetary awards to breeders and owners of Texas-bred greyhounds and horses funded by breakage from all types of wagers. Breakage is the amount available after payoffs to winning ticket holders rounded down to the nearest dime.
Additionally, the Racing Act called for a portion of horse racing wagers to fund equine research. In 1991, the Racing Act was amended to establish a Texas Equine Research Account Advisory Committee (TERAAC) to provide expertise for evaluation of proposals for equine research and to provide a channel for communication among equine scientists and representatives of the horse racing industry. The TERAAC was abolished by the 2011 Sunset legislation making Texas AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University, sole authority to distribute Equine Research Account funds.
In June 2012, Saddle Brook Park submitted a request to open a temporary location, the Saddle Brook Jockey Club, to conduct simulcast racing. Their request was approved in August and live race dates were approved at Saddle Brook Park for October 2014. Saddle Brook Park opened its temporary facility for simulcasting on December 13, 2012, and their license was changed to Active-Other.
In 2009, HB1724/HJR 70, “relating to the authorization and regulation of casino and slot gaming” in the state, was filed on February 24, 2009 and referred to the Licensing & Procedures committee (L&P) on April 8, where it was left pending.
In 2011, more than 26 gaming bills were introduced. Most notably, HJR137, a constitutional amendment authorizing legislators to legalize and regulate wagering in Texas, was passed by the L&P committee (contingent on approval by voters), only to die after the deadline passed and the requisite 100 signatures were not collected. Two more bills proposing the legalization of VLTs at racetracks, SB1118/SJR 33 and HB2111/HJR111, were introduced on March 3, 2011 and referred to the Licensing and Administrative Procedures committee on March 29. When the regular legislative session ended on May 30 neither VLT bill had passed.
In 2012, “Let Texans Decide!” was formed in frustration of the lack of legislations making it past both houses. The campaign is a coalition of state business leaders, horsemen, community organizations, and Texas citizens set on passing legislation that will put the gaming expansion issue on the ballot for the voters of Texas to decide.
For the 2013 legislative session, proponents of expanded gambling were even more hopeful. On February 22, 2013, Sen. Hinojosa (D-District 20) filed SJR36 and SB789 calling for a constitutional referendum to allow VLTs at licensed horse and greyhound racetracks and by Indian tribes. This bill was assigned to the Senate Finance Committee on March 18, where it remained.
Next, on March 6, 2013, Rep. Raymond (D-District 42) filed companion legislation HB2729 and HJR121, also calling for a constitutional referendum to allow VLTs at racetracks. Review for this bill was assigned to the House Licensing and Administration Committee on March 18, with the same fate.
On March 20, 2013, Sen. Caron (R-Dallas) filed SJR 64, which would open Texas to Vegas-style casinos and revitalize the state’s horse racing industry, with eight licenses for slots at racetracks. Supporters claimed the bill would create tens of thousands of jobs at the resort casinos alone and would attract billions of dollars to the state each year. Those proceeds would be taxed at 20%. The bill never made it past committee.
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