Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick extended thanks to Sen. Jane Nelson saying, “They stood up for the constitution and really were tarred and feathered for it.”
AUSTIN—Opponents of gambling expansion in Texas scored a victory Feb. 18 when the Texas Racing Commission voted to repeal a rule change that would have allowed electronic historical racing terminals at horse and greyhound tracks.
The commission voted 5-4 to repeal its 2014 action that would have allowed historical racing. Also called “instant racing,” the historic racing electronic devices display information and a brief video clip from previously run races, stripped of identifying markers.
A group of Texas lawmakers asserted the commission overstepped its authority by using its rulemaking privilege to expand gambling, and a state judge ruled the agency lacked authority to allow historical racing in Texas.
But last August, even after state senators threatened to withhold the commission’s funding, commissioners voted to retain the references to historical racing in its rules that govern tracks.
The Legislative Budget Board had set a Feb. 29 deadline for the commission to repeal the rule on historical racing or face a shutdown, not only of the commission, but also of tracks around the state.
Victoria North, who attended the meeting representing Comptroller Glenn Hegar, voted in favor of the repeal, breaking the 4-4 deadlock on the commission.
As an ex-officio member of the commission, Hegar previously abstained on four previous votes regarding historical racing.
Two days before the vote, Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, sent Hegar a letter urging him to take action, saying his earlier decision to abstain “contributed to the (commission’s) attempt to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on gambling in our state.”
“As the only statewide elected official on the commission, we hope you will no longer abstain from votes on historical racing or any other policy matters,” Freeman wrote.
Rob Kohler, consultant with the CLC, expressed appreciation to Hegar for taking action and recognizing any expansion of gambling “is a matter to be decided by voters and the Texas Legislature, not the Texas Racing Commission.”
He also extended thanks to Sen. Jane Nelson and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, saying, “They stood up for the constitution and really were tarred and feathered for it.”
Marsha Rountree, executive director of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership, attributed the vote to “extreme pressure placed on commissioners by a small handful of Senate leaders.”
“Real Texans will now suffer due to the continuing decline of the horse racing industry in Texas,” she asserted.
In contrast, Rodger Weems, chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling—Texas, emphasized constitutional prohibitions on gambling in the state, except for a few specific exceptions.
“The issue boils down to respect for the Texas Constitution,” Weems said. “Real Texans respect the constitution.”