By KAREN BROOKS HARPER, Austin Bureau
kbrooks@dallasnews.com
Published: 08 April 2013 10:15 PM

AUSTIN — A constitutional amendment letting Texas vote on whether to allow resort casinos and racetrack gambling has drawn the support of one of the state’s most influential business organizations, which touts it as a boost for the economy.

“This is about bringing capital into our great state. And we know it’s been stated that when we bring capital, we bring good jobs with good benefits to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, which has supported similar measures in the past.

The measure by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, would put before Texas voters the question of whether to allow a limited number of resort casinos to be built in the state. Also allowed would be slot machines at certain horse racing parks.

The proposal needs a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate before Texans would be able to vote on it in November.

Opponents of the bill include religious organizations that say it would lead to increased social ills, including gambling addiction.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

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By KUT News
Credit Bobby Blanchard, KUT News
John Carona speaks to members of the media Monday afternoon at the Capitol.

Texas voters would decide whether or not casinos would be allowed in the state, if state lawmakers approve a referendum that would amend the state Constitution.

State Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) said his proposal would allow 21 casinos to be distributed throughout the state, and would create a gambling commission. Carona, the author of the bill, said it is time Texas allows for casinos and slot machines, so the state doesn’t fall behind other states economically.

“Texas spends nearly $3 billion annually at gaming facilities in Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico, helping pay for their roads, their schools and their hospitals, and its time for us to do something about that,” Carona said.

The referendum would allow for a limited number of destination resort casinos and permit casinos in Texas in the form of a Constitution Amendment that voters would have to approve.  A Constitutional amendment is something Texas Governor Rick Perry cannot veto — something Carona said is no accident.

Carona said he has been working on legislation like this for six years, and while he is not sure it will pass this time, he believes it will eventually.

“You never really know when a major issue like this will find a break or an opportunity to be passed,” Carona said. “I think the opportunity will present itself if not during this session then perhaps during the next or a special session on school finance, should there be one.”

According to a poll commissioned by a group supporting expanded gambling in the state, 82 percent of Texans support letting voters decide on having casinos in Texas.

A public hearing on the casino referendum is scheduled for Wednesday.

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By CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press
Updated 2:14 pm, Monday, April 8, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A proposed constitutional referendum to allow casino gambling in Texas got a boost Monday when a Dallas-area senator announced that interest groups had united behind a measure he introduced at the Texas Legislature.

Republican Sen. John Carona said that big casinos and race tracks had agreed to support his proposed constitutional amendment. If approved by lawmakers and voters, it would allow 21 casinos statewide and create a gambling commission.

In the past, casino operators, horse and dog owners, horse breeders and the state’s federally recognized tribes couldn’t agree on expanding Texas gambling, often trying to make sure that any effort to legalize would guarantee them a minimum market share. Carona said that unity behind the proposal was a success, even if the bill does not pass this year.

“This bill provides for a very limited number of casinos and the protection of the public, including those with a moral objections, comes from the fact that it is a constitutional amendment,” Carona said. “Once the language is agreed upon and sent to the voters, the voters get to choose, and legislators can’t come along and change it without voters being re-engaged.”

The proposal would allow one casino each in Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio with three additional casinos along the coast. Three racetracks in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston could operate casinos and nine small race tracks could apply for licenses to operate casinos or slot machines.

The three federally recognized Indian tribes would also each have a casino license. The amendment would only allow two casinos per county and no more than three in a major metropolitan area.

The state would tax gambling revenue at 20 percent, unless the operator invested more than $1 billion, and then the rate would be 15 percent. At least 85 percent of tax revenue would go to reduce property taxes, the city and county would get 5 percent each and the remaining 5 percent would be spent to prosecute gambling-related crime and help those with gambling addictions.

Religious organizations, a few conservative groups and some liberals oppose gambling because they say it’s harmful to the community and poor people often suffer the most.

Former Texas Sen. John Montford, spokesman for the pro-gambling group Let Texans Decide, said studies show that Texans spend nearly $3 billion visiting casinos and racetracks in neighboring states and that Texans should be allowed to vote on whether to allow casinos. Texas is one of only 10 states that still ban all casino gambling.

“We feel the people of Texas are smart enough, educated enough and certainly savvy enough about what’s going on that they ought to decide this issue for themselves,” he said.

Carona said he was particularly concerned about the Texas horse-breeding industry, which has almost completely died out because other states have banned Texas horses and local tracks can’t generate enough prize money under the current system.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said the group supports the measure because it could bring thousands of jobs to the state and would save Texans from having to travel to neighboring states in order to game.

___

On the Internet:

Senate Joint Resolution 64: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=SJR64

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04/08/2013 05:40 PM -By: LeAnn WallaceYNN.com

The ongoing casino debate in Texas may once and for all lie in the hands of voters.Legislation is making its way through the capitol that would open up the gaming market across the state. The odds have been against similar legislation in the past, but the bill appears to have more support this time around.

Republican Senator John Carona says Texans spend $3 billion at casinos in neighboring states each year.

“Helping to pay for their roads, their schools, and their hospitals,” Sen. Carona said.

Pro-gaming supporters say it’s time to once and for all level the playing field.

“We’re hemorrhaging money to Oklahoma,” John T. Montford with Let Texans Decide said. “Not only do they recruit our best high school football players, they also snooker us each day by building their gaming empire on the back of Texans.”

If the bill passes, gaming licenses, according to the bill’s language, would be granted to a limited number of destination resort casinos, horse race tracks, and to American Indian tribes.

“It’ll bring jobs, tourism. It’ll bring conventions. It will be helpful to the state,” Bill Hammon, president of the Texas Association of Business, said. “Local property taxes will also be strongly affected so therefore schools, fire, police will be benefited on the local level.”

Moral issues have historically been part of the argument against gambling.

“As rural country Baptists, it has always been gambling is not part of the solution,” Jim Wyatt with Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce said.

But supporters say it’s now time for the solution to rest in the hands of voters.

“However, we recognize when we travel to Louisiana or Oklahoma, we see church vans in the parking lot so therefore it’s important we allow the decision to be made,” Wyatt said.

Moral issues aside, safety has also been a concern. To curtail that, a portion of the generated tax revenue would go to extra law enforcement, as well as to education to help with gambling addictions.

“Texans can decide this issue themselves and I believe its high time we give them that chance,” Sen. Carona said.

Supporters say they also hope this bill would clean-up a lot of the illegal gambling that’s happening across the state.

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– Contributing Writer- Austin Business JournalEmail
Apr 8, 2013, 11:27am CDT

Lawmakers, representatives of the business community and other stakeholders will attend an April 8 press conference at the Capitol in support of legislation to widen gaming opportunities for Texas businesses.

Senate Business and Commerce Committee Chair John Carona, R-Dallas, will discuss Senate Joint Resolution 64 that proposes a constitutional amendment to create a limited number of destination resort casinos and permit casinos, and permit slots at certain approved horse and dog racetracks. As a constitutional amendment, this measure would ultimately be determined by voters.

“There isn’t a single other economic opportunity that can match the total effect of this legislation’s application,” Carona said. “There isn’t another source of tax revenue as great as this, either.”

The 1 p.m. conference will highlight several issues: how more than 80 percent of Texans want a debate and vote on gaming; that enactment of the legislation would enable Texas to recapture $2.9 billion in gaming revenues exported to neighboring states annually; how it would result in tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in capital investment and construction; and would create a new tax revenue to fund education. Strong public safety enforcement measures contained in the resolution will combat illegal gaming, also, which remains prevalent in the state.

“Texas has a lot of illegal gaming activity that is unregulated and untaxed,” said John Montford, chairman of Let Texans Decide, a coalition of pro-gaming business leaders, horsemen and community organizations, which supports the legislation. “This would make the situation a lot better than it is now.”

The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce will convene at 8 a.m. on April 10 in room E1.028 of the Capitol Extension to take up the resolution.

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Lawmakers may not pass legislation this session that could help legalize casino gambling in Texas, but they are “inching closer and closer to that day,” state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said Monday.

At a news conference in the Capitol, Carona and other gaming supporters touted Senate Joint Resolution 64, which would let Texas voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow casino gambling and provide support for other types of gambling in the state, like horse racing. Carona’s bill is set to go before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, which he chairs, on Wednesday.

Efforts to allow casino gambling in Texas have failed multiple times before, and the trend isn’t expected to change this session. But Carona said gaming interests that have consistently disagreed in the past, including casino resort owners and racetrack industry leaders, have reached some important compromises. In his book, that’s a mark of success – even if his legislation doesn’t advance.

“You never really know when a major issue like this will find a break or an opportunity to be passed,” Carona said. “As more and more states pass legalization or expanded gaming, with Texas being one of only 10 states left that don’t, I think the opportunity will present itself if not during this session then perhaps next or [during] a special session on school finance, should there be one.”

His measure is one of several that proposes constitutional amendments on the issue, including SJR 6 by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. But such legislation has seen little movement in the House or the Senate.

Critics say that existing gambling hasn’t generated as much as tax revenue as proponents have promised, while others say gambling violates moral principles important to many Texans.

Carona said the proposed gaming provisions would add tens of thousands jobs in the state, bring in money for infrastructure and local governments, and stop the flow of Texas money to other states’ casinos.

“A recent report shows Oklahoma is the largest generator of gaming revenue — we all know where that money is coming from,” Carona said.

Representatives of various gaming and business interests joined Carona on Monday and said legislators shouldn’t ignore the financial benefits that increased gaming would bring.

Jack Pratt, the chairman of the Texas Gaming Association, said he believes Texans would vote in favor of a constitutional amendment that would help industries like tourism and entertainment and bring money to the state. Various polls have indicated that a majority of Texans support casino gambling, including a Texas Tribune Poll from 2011.

“It’s time for this long debate to reach John Q. Public,” Pratt said.

Texas voters aren’t electing legislators who loudly advocate for expanded gaming, said Rob Kohler, who represents the Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission. Previous gaming initiatives, including the Texas Lottery and pari-mutuel horse and greyhound racing, have failed to generate promised tax revenue, he added.

“We’ve just seen no movement, none of the things that you look for to see if something has the opportunity to pass have presented themselves,” said Kohler, who will be at Wednesday’s committee hearing to speak in opposition to Carona’s bill. “That’s okay, we like that.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/04/08/first-major-gambling-bill-receives-wednesday-heari/.

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Opponents say gambling would increase social woes.

By Kolten Parker, Austin Bureau
Updated 10:04 pm, Monday, April 8, 2013

AUSTIN — Business and state leaders say voters should decide whether to allow casinos in Texas, touting job creation and a new source of revenue. Opponents aren’t willing to take the gamble, warning of financial and social consequences for the state’s poor.

A proposal from Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona would establish a commission to license 21 casinos throughout the state, including three mega-resorts in Bexar, Dallas and Tarrant counties and two locations at Retama Park in San Antonio and Sam Houston Racepark in Houston.

Carona, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce committee, said the measure would keep an estimated $3 billion that Texans are spending at casinos in bordering states in state coffers while creating more than 75,000 jobs. The committee will consider the measure Wednesday and is likely to pass on the proposal to the full Senate, he said.

An amendment first must gain two-thirds support of the House and Senate before it goes to voters in a statewide referendum.

“No one can really determine yet what chance of ultimate passage it has this session,” Carona said Monday, noting his vote tally indicates both chambers are a few votes shy of approval. “It is a difficult bill because of the presumed political consequences of it, but the polls show there is overwhelming public support.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who has supported similar measures in the past, said the chances of a gambling bill passing this session are “slim to none.”

But Pitts said the final decision on the state’s school finance trial could provide a boost. If the current ruling stands, asserting that the state’s public education funding is inadequate and unconstitutional, lawmakers will be searching for a new source of revenue that isn’t a new tax, he said.

Opponents, including moralists and limited-government advocates, argue that the legalization of gambling would increase family and social problems, including addiction.

“Gambling addiction decimates household budgets, tears families apart and disproportionately hurts the poor,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Carona’s proposal also would license three casinos in coastal counties. Twelve casinos would be reserved for racetracks, and three would be designated for federally recognized Native American tribes.

Eighty-five percent of the revenue generated would be dedicated to the Property Tax Relief Fund, which supports programs such as public education and emergency services. Remaining revenue would belong to city and county governments to fund programs to counter compulsive gambling.

The Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass, owned by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, is the only casino in the state, but its revenue is not taxed. Carona’s proposal would require the tribe to enter into a compact with the state to determine a percentage to be paid to the state, said Eric Bearse, a spokesman for the pro-gaming group Let Texans Decide.

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, said he is skeptical of the chances gambling has this session.

“Very few people are going to vote against you in a Republican primary if you don’t support gambling,” he said. “However, there is a small but significant share of the Republican electorate that may punish a Republican at the polls who supports it.”

kparker@express-news.net

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Bill-betting-on-voters-to-take-a-gamble-4419097.php#ixzz2PzcPYU5c
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Senator says legislation would create tens of thousands of jobs, provide property tax relief

Posted: April 8, 2013 – 9:30pm  |  Updated: April 9, 2013 – 12:23am
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Riverwind Casino is shown in Oklahoma. Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona suggests bringing gambling to Texas to capture some of the $3 billion a year spent by Texans in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana.

Riverwind Casino is shown in Oklahoma. Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona suggests bringing gambling to Texas to capture some of the $3 billion a year spent by Texans in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana.
By Enrique Rangel
A-J MEDIA AUSTIN BUREAU

 

AUSTIN — Saying Texans spend nearly $3 billion a year betting in neighboring states, a senior state senator on Monday outlined a bill that would allow state voters to decide whether some gambling is allowed in Texas.

“Let’s face it, Oklahoma, along with Louisiana and New Mexico, have captured the lucrative Texas market,” Dallas Republican Sen. John Carona said as he outlined his Senate Joint Resolution 64, a constitutional amendment that would let state voters decide whether limited gambling is allowed in the state.

“One casino (in Oklahoma), just across the Texas border, runs 27 bus routes” every day, Carona said.

The money Texans spend gambling in neighboring states “helps pay for their roads, schools and their hospitals,” he said. “It is time we do something about that.”

Moreover, his legislation would create tens of thousands of jobs and provide property tax relief for Texas homeowners because the limited number of casinos, slots at horse and race tracks would result in tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in capital investment and construction and additional tax revenue to fund public education, Carona said. Texas is among 10 states where casino gambling is illegal because it is written in the state’s Constitution.

But in order to let the voters decide on the constitutionality of the issue, SJR 64 must get at least a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

Carona was joined at a news conference by gambling supporters and business leaders from across the state, including former Lubbock state Sen. John T. Montford, the lead spokesman of a statewide effort called “Let Texans Decide.”

“I don’t think we need to stand here and say that we’re mad at New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana but we have to say they’ve outsmarted us,” Montford said. “Ladies and gentlemen we’re surrounded and we are hemorrhaging money in untold amounts to our neighboring states, in particularly we are hemorrhaging money to Oklahoma.”

So, Montford said Let Texans Decide has a simple proposition: Let Texas voters decide at the ballot box whether the state should allow more gambling.

Based on recent polls, the group is convinced that if the Legislature gives the voters the opportunity decide on the issue, a convincing majority would approve the measure.

However, Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Christian Life Commission, which is affiliated with Texas Baptists, a leading gambling opponent, said what Carona, Montford and other supporters of expanded gambling propose is the same failed promise of more revenue and thousands of more jobs for the state.

“If you read the comments they made when they were promoting pari-mutuel wagering (in the 1980s) and the state lottery (in the 1990s), they are almost the same, line by line,” Kohler said. This included the promise that the revenue would help fund public education.

For those reasons, plus the fact that the 83rd Legislature is quite conservative, Texas Baptists are confident Carona’s bill will fail, just as it happened to similar proposals in previous sessions, Kohler predicted.

In the 2011 Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed a similar proposal but the legislation — along with other gambling bills — failed to pass.

This was because conservative Republicans and even some liberal Democrats have long opposed gambling legislation.

The former on grounds that it is not the way for the state to collect revenue and the latter because, in their view, needy Texans often gamble what little they have. And when they lose what little money they have it is their struggling families who get hurt the most.

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Posted Monday, Apr. 08, 2013 – By Dave Montgomery
dmontgomery@star-telegram.com

AUSTIN — The chief architect of legislation to expand gambling in Texas said Monday that proponents are “inching closer” to winning approval of a proposed constitutional amendment that would send the issue to the voters after years of debate.

But Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, acknowledged it remains uncertain whether they can get the job done before the current legislative session ends next month.

“I would tell you we’re very, very close,” Carona said. “And I would suggest that with a little push at the appropriate time from the various leaders we have throughout the Legislature, this bill can in fact become law.”

“I can’t tell you whether or not it’ll be this session or not,” he added, “but I can tell you with certainty … we are inching closer and closer to that day.”

Carona, flanked by other proponents at a capitol press conference, announced there will be a hearing Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment that could pave the way for Las Vegas-type destination casinos in three urban counties, including Tarrant, as well as similar casinos at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie and the state’s two other Class One Race tracks.

It also would permit slot machines at other approved horse and dog race tracks.

The hearing will constitute the session’s first showdown between those battling to bring expanded gambling to Texas and those working to stop it. Texas has racetracks and a statewide lottery but efforts to allow casinos in the Lone Star Sate have foundered in previous sessions.

Rob Kohler, consultant for the Christian Life Commission for Texas Baptists, one of the leading opponents of the expanded gambling, said the outlook is no different this session.

“Do I think this bill will pass? I don’t,” said Kohler. “We feel we have the numbers. More people will vote against it than vote for it.”

The objective for pro-gambling forces is mustering a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature to send the issue directly to the voters as a proposed constitutional amendment.

Proponents say rank-and-file Texans should be empowered to decide whether or not to expand gambling. The strategy also pre-empts the state’s best-known opponent of expanded gambling – Gov. Rick Perry – because the governor cannot veto amendments that are passed by the Legislature and sent to the voters to decide.

“One the things about this, it’s a constitutional amendment so the governor does not have any veto over this resolution, and, of course that’s not by accident,” said Carona.

Perry spokesman Rich Parson reiterated the governor’s long-held position Monday: “He’s opposed to expanding the footprint of gambling in Texas.”

Carona’s proposal would permit showcase casino resorts in Tarrant, Dallas and Bexar counties, although the proposal may be amended to include Harris County. The measure would also permit barrier island casinos in Galveston, Corpus Christi and South Padre Island, three more for the class one race tracks and slots or casino licenses for lower-tier racetracks.

Casinos would also be authorized for the state’s three federally licensed Indian tribes in Livingston, El Paso and Eagle Pass.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston,. is also proposing a constitutional amendment permitting up to eight destination resort casinos as well as horse-and-dog-racing slots and gaming facilities on Indian reservations. But only Carona’s bill is scheduled to be the focus of Wednesday’s hearing.

Jack Pratt Sr., chairman of the Texas Gaming Association, described the destination casinos proposed in Carona’s bill as “iconic” luxury resorts that would cost between $2 billion to $3 billion to build.

Only four major U.S. companies – Las Vegas Sands, Winn Resorts, MGM and Harrah’s – have the financial firepower to construct the top of the line casinos, but a number of smaller companies are prepared to spend between $100 million to $300 million for other casinos envisioned in Carona’s bill, Pratt said.

“We’ll have plenty of people. This will be the largest state that’s ever had this type of offering for many, many years,” Pratt said. “So it’ll be very competitively bid.”

The bill also creates the Texas Gaming Commission, which would oversee the bidding and awarding of the licenses.

Letting Texans decide

At Monday’s press conference, Carona and other proponents said that expanding gambling in Texas would enable the state to wrest back $3 billion in revenue that goes to surrounding states that permit gambling. Thirty-nine states allow some form of casino gambling, amassing revenue of nearly $36 million.

WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, just across the Red River from Texas, draws millions of dollars from Texas gamblers.

“We’re hemorrhaging money to Oklahoma,” said former State Sen. John Montford , who heads an organization called Let Texans Decide. “We feel like the people of Texas are smart enough, educated enough and certainly savvy about what’s going on that they ought to be able to decide this issue for themselves.”

Jim Wyatt, president of the Texas Association of African-American Chambers of Commerce, acknowledged that he has reservations about gambling but added: “We recognize that when we travel to Louisiana or Oklahoma, we see church vans in the parking lot.”

Carona’s bill would dedicate 85 percent of the revenue to the state’s property tax relief fund.

Five percent would go the city and county governments, and the remainder would be used to prosecute gambling related offenses or to fund a treatment program for compulsive gamblers.

Carona’s bill also reduced the number of proposed casinos compared to previous proposals.

“We have a very limited number of facilities on a statewide basis so as not to affect the quality of our neighborhoods,” he said.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin Bureau chief, 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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SureBet Racing – by Martha Claussen

April 2013 – Every two yearsthe elected officials of Texas convene in Austin to review a myriad of bills and legislative documents. For close to two decades, members of the Texas racing industry have appealed to lawmakers for legislation that would allow video lottery terminals, or VLTs, at racetracks. Legislators have been implored to acknowledge the massive amount of money leaving the state with Texans who support gaming in neighboring states of Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The compelling economic impact studies have pointed out the benefit to the state in revenues for education, agriculture and tourism.

In 2011, more than 26 gaming bills were introduced and the Licensing and Administrative Procedures committee passed Constitutional Amendment, HJR 137, to authorize the legislature to legalize and regulate the conduct of one or more types of gaming involving wagering in Texas, contingent on approval by the voters at a statewide referendum. Unfortunately, the deadline passed without the required 100 votes, and therefore, nothing further occurred in that session.

However, progress has been made in the 83rd Texas legislative session, and two bills have been filed and sent to committee. On Feb. 22, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-District 20) filed Texas State Senate Joint Resolution No. 36 and enabling Senate Bill No. 789 that call for a constitutional referendum to allow video lottery games at licensed horse and greyhound racetracks and by Indian tribes under the regulatory authority of the Texas Lottery Commission and the Texas Racing Commission. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

Subsequently, on March 6, Rep. Richard Raymond (D-District 42) filed companion legislation HJR No. 121 and HB No. 2729, also calling for a constitutional referendum to allow video lottery games at licensed horse and greyhound racetracks and by Indian tribes. Review for this bill has been assigned to the House Licensing and Administration Committee.

Let Texans Decide!

One of the greatest frustrations of the battle to get legislative help has been the failure to get bills from the House to the Senate so that the public can vote for expanded gaming in Texas. In 2012, a new initiative called Let Texans Decide! was established. The campaign is a coalition of state business leaders, horsemen, community organizations, and Texas citizens committed to passing legislation at the Texas Capitol that will put the issue on the ballot for the voters of Texas to decide.

Studies and polls have firmly established that an overwhelming majority of Texas voters, regardless of political party or geographic region, want the right to decide this issue for themselves.

Let Texans Decide! embarked upon a campaign to get support from the equine and racing industry with social media and a very simple web link for people to sign up and receive updates. More than 8,800 citizens across the state have lent their names, and the highly respected Sen. John T. Montford led a public affairs campaign to allow Texans the opportunity to vote on the expansion of gaming. As a successful Texas businessman as well as serving in the state Senate for 14 years, Sen. Montford has served as an ardent backer of giving the public voting power to decide and stop the exodus of dollars out of state.

“Like most Texans, I’m frustrated seeing billions of our hard-earned dollars fleeing the state,” said Montford. “Senator Carona, Senator Hinojosa and Representative Raymond have each authored legislation that puts the issue in front of the voters, allowing Texans to stop the hemorrhaging of billions of dollars to neighboring states.”

Sam Houston Race Park president Andréa Young has been heavily involved in legislative efforts to aid the Texas racing industry. Young, who joined Sam Houston in 2007, is encouraged with the recent developments in Austin.

“Senator Corona’s bill is the first bill that has put racetracks and casinos on the same playing field,” said Young. “Horsemen have three vehicles for expanded gaming; two in the House and one in the Senate. We are seeing unparalleled bipartisan efforts in the Texas House and Senate. Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

The month of April will play a pivotal role in whether the bills will get out of committee and advance to a House and Senate vote.

Texas Horsemen Struggling

Purses are funded by racetracks, state breed funds and handle, but casino revenue has greatly enhanced the numbers in neighboring states. Without that added revenue, horsemen in Texas suffer mightily. Sam Houston Race Park in Houston and Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino in New Mexico were running Thoroughbreds within days of each other in March. Sunland Park is located just west of El Paso, Texas, but as a result of racino dollars, it is able to offer $12,200 for a claiming race that Sam Houston Race Park ran for $7,500. Sunland’s non-graded stakes offers a purse of $85,000; Houston’s is $50,000. There is a similar disparity for Quarter Horse purses, with Remington Park in Oklahoma City sometimes offering three times the money for the same conditions in Texas.

Feed, vet bills, salaries for backstretch workers, horse trailers and other expenses are the same for horsemen running in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The purses, sadly, are not, and more and more horsemen are faced with either shipping out of state or simply closing their operations.

Mary Ruyle, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA), knows the importance of this legislative session. Many prominent Texas breeders have left the state and, without a strong breed program, funding for Texas-bred racing programs and stakes has been greatly impacted. She and her board of directors have seen a growing number of stallions and broodmares being shipped to bordering states that offer higher incentives.

“TTA is working diligently to track legislation beneficial to horsemen,” said Ruyle. “We have kept our membership informed and involved through weekly email and postcard updates, encouraging them to contact their legislators to voice support for these bills.  There is a cooperative industry effort between the breed registries, horsemen’s organization, racetrack operators and the member organizations of Texas HORSE to visit legislators, provide them with industry information and seek their support.”

Horsemen are optimistic about the developments so far in 2013. Judd Kearl operates a training center in Madisonville, Texas, and runs both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. He has won five training titles at Sam Houston Race Park, but had no choice but to ship to Louisiana and Oklahoma to keep his operation afloat.

“I really like the way it’s going this year,” said Kearl. “Things are better and there is more agreement on how to approach the lawmakers.”

One of the state’s leading Thoroughbred trainers, Danny Pish, concurs.He has won the training title at Retama Park for the past 13 years and continues to be one of the top conditioners at both Sam Houston and Lone Star. Pish resides in Cibolo, Texas, just minutes from Retama Park. For the past three years, he has shipped a string to Remington Park in Oklahoma and sent some of his better horses to Fair Grounds in New Orleans. In addition to running for higher purses, Pish wishes legislators would understand how many jobs are impacted when Texas is surrounded by states that have expanded gaming.

“I am just one guy with several employees, but if we had gaming in Texas, so many more jobs would be available,” stated Pish. “We’re not just talking about racing; jobs at farms, feed companies, tack shops, veterinary clinics. It’s unbelievable how much money is going out of state. If legislation passes, the equine and racing economy would benefit, and a huge number of people in our industry would not have to make their living out of state.”

Dan Fick is executive director of Texas H.O.R.S.E, an organization comprised of breed organizations including Thoroughbred, American Quarter Horse, Arabian, Cutting Horse and American Paint Horse Association. They support VLTs at racetracks as a needed revenue boost to the state’s breeding and agricultural industries. They have also been working diligently to introduce and pass legislation to help Texas regain its leadership position within the American horse industry.

“Our numbers are down 50 to70 percent across the board involving foal crops, stallions and race dates,” states Fick. “Bordering states, fueled by racinos, paid out $215 million in purses in 2011; Texas horsemen ran for just $24 million. It is clear to see why our horsemen are racing elsewhere.”

Texas H.O.R.S.E  has organized “Horse Week at the Capitol” April 1-5 and has asked

horse owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, track employees and racing fans to come to Austin to make their voices heard. Members of the racing community will make the trip and walk the halls of the state capitol explaining why they need the support of their representatives and senators to get behind the bills supporting VLTs at Texas racetracks.

Fick and other organizers will make sure that everyone who comes to Austin to support “Horse Week at the Capitol” is armed with facts and figures for their elected officials.

“We have $2.9 billion exiting Texas, but we did not wait until the last minute to state our case,” adds Fick. “We have been making visits and delivering feed buckets filled with horseshoes, feed, industry magazines and other items. Our goal is for the legislators to see how many people, associations and companies are affected when Texas is denied.”

The groundwork has been laid, and the figures cannot be ignored. There is cautious optimism that lawmakers are listening and that one of the bills will successfully get out of committee and proceed to the next step.

“We are taking it one day at a time, but have worked hard to ensure that legislators know that our industry is hurting,” said Young. “Texans need to have the chance to vote on this issue.”

Once again, the race is on, and bills to give Texas racing the impetus needed to be one of the top racing and equine states in the country, have been filed. Horsemen, racetrack officials and individuals who work in and support the industry are hopeful that the 83rd Texas legislative session will move forward to level the playing field for the Texas racing industry.

For those who want to keep up with developments in the 83rd legislative session, here are helpful websites.

Texas Legislature Online http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Let Texans Decide! http://lettexansdecide.com/

Texas H.O.R.S.E http://texashorseweb.com/

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