It is high time Texas grew up

by Steven Long

HOUSTON, (Horseback) – What is the use of owning a popular publication if you don’t use that platform as a bully pulpit from time to time. This is one of those rare times when we ask our readers to support an issue of vital importance to all horsemen.

It seems that more than a decade ago that we noticed signs along I-10 just after crossing the border between Texas and Louisiana promoting a vote to legalize slot machines at that state’s horse tracks. Shortly thereafter, the enlightened voters there passed legislation that has transformed the Louisiana racing industry from a backwater destination filled with little known tracks and gumbo stands to the thriving business enterprise Louisiana racing is today.

We ran into famed Quarter Horse trainer Janet Van Bebber recently at the Grade 2 Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship at Sam Houston Race Park where her highly regarded Acorn was a contender. The horse was the 2010 Adequan Derby Challenge Champion. It was a rare appearance for the trainer at the Houston track where she and her late husband were fixtures. Van Bebber will address a committee of the Texas Legislature on a bill that would transform Texas racing and the rest of the state’s horse industry for the better if it passes.

“Pray that the words come out of my mouth right,“ she said as she stood near the winner’s circle waiting for the start. The words most assuredly will be perfect when Van Bebber speaks. She’s savvy, articulate, and probably one of the five best trainers of Quarter Horses in the United States, maybe even the best on a good day. Janet spends 2-4 hours on horseback  every day, weather permitting, at her Vinton Louisiana home and training facility. The California native was driven there by the ever increasing size of Louisiana purses, and the ever dwindling difficulty of making a living in the horse business in Texas. Now Texas Grade 1 tracks, the fabulous facilities in Houston, San Antonio, and the Metroplex, are the backwaters where first class trainers such as Van Bebber and another Texan, Steve Asmussen, make increasingly rare appearances. The are largely places where great horses used to run but run no longer.

When Janet speaks to the issue of passage of HB 2111 and SB 1118, she is simply addressing the wildly popular issue of allowing Texas’ voters to have a say in their own destiny by voting in a statewide referendum to allow slot machines at Texas tracks.  Her voice will be powerful as she speaks to the social conservatives who overwhelmingly dominate the Texas House. Van Bebber is a fundamentalist church going Christian lady who likely owns a direct connection to the deity. We strongly believe her prayers are heard. She views gambling as a necessary byproduct of the industry in which she has spent a lifetime. She doesn’t gamble herself. If there is a single vice she possesses, we sure can’t find it.

Two days after Van Bebber speaks, horse lovers from across the state will converge on the Capitol steps in a show of force in support of the bill. The horse industry appears to be speaking with one voice as it pleads that Texas end the absurdity of allowing “racinos” at tracks in every surrounding state to suck up spending from the state’s gamblers. They cross the borders in droves daily to squander billions feeding a mindless computer driven machine that rarely pay off. We call them slots. This is an absurdly ridiculous situation that simply must change.

Texas desperately needs the revenue produced at gambling venues next to the horse tracks. The tracks, in turn, need the revenue which will increase the purses and draw first rate horses and horsemen back to the state.

There has been a ripple effect to the destruction of the Texas racing industry. Show horse owners and breeders are taking the very best horses, Texas bred, horses out of state as well.  The legislation provides a much needed shot in the arm to the show industry as well as to horse racing. It’s an across the board win, win, for every activity we do as a horse.

Texas faces the very real risk of losing horse racing altogether if this legislation fails.

Gov. Rick Perry has said he won’t support the expansion of gambling in his state. The popular governor takes this Neanderthal position at his peril. Yet Perry has left the door open a crack.. He hedges his statement by saying he won’t support the expansion of gambling in the state beyond the footprint it already has her. That means racinos at our horse track are a viable option since there is daily gambling at our Texas tracks. The electorate has long been ready to spend its own money at home. It has had a belly full of a handful of voters dictating the morality of a majority of its citizens. Folks have every right to do with their own money what they wish. And millions do exactly that at race tracks. There are 44 casinos attached to race tracks across the nation, including 11 racinos just across the border in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

Shouldn’t common sense finally prevail on this issue? It is with that in mind that Horseback Magazine enthusiastically supports passage of legislation that would allow the citizens of Texas to vote their own destiny, not have it dictated to them by a group of self serving politicians in Austin.

The support is overwhelming. As reported in the Austin American Statesman, a poll revealed overwhelming support  showing  that 82 percent of Texas voters favored the right to vote on adding slot machines to racetracks and federally recognized Indian reservations.

Horse organizations across the state such as breed associations, horse shows, and most recently the prestigious Greater Houston Horse Council have endorses passage of the bill.

Call your representatives and senators now and tell them to stop the absurdity. And yeah, tell them the state could use the tax revenue such facilities would generate.

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