Survey finds 82% of Texans support gaming referendum, including 78% of Republican primary voters

Austin – A Wilson Perkins Allen opinion survey released today by “Let Texans Decide” shows voters support a constitutional amendment election on expanded gaming by overwhelming numbers. 82 percent of respondents indicated support for a ballot initiative on expanded gaming, with 62 percent – five of every eight survey respondents – indicating strong support for a constitutional amendment on gaming. In addition, Wilson Perkins Allen performed an over-sample of 511 Republican primary voters and found 78 percent of Republicans support placing expanded gaming on the ballot.

“Texans of every political persuasion, across all economic sectors and demographics, agree that voters should decide on the expansion of gaming in Texas,” said former State Senator John T. Montford, chairman of Let Texans Decide. “Texans are smart enough to figure this issue out on their own, and should have the freedom to do so.”

The survey of 1,001 registered voters, conducted January 27-30, posed the question:

“Regardless of your views on gambling, would you support or oppose allowing Texas voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to allow the expansion of gaming in Texas?”

Among a representative sample of general election voters, 82 percent said they would support a voter referendum on gaming, with only 15 percent expressing opposition. Among Republican primary voters sampled, 78 percent indicated support and 20 percent indicated opposition.

“This is a myth-busting survey that shows Republican voters believe Texans should have the freedom to decide how they spend their entertainment dollars,” said LTD spokesman Eric Bearse. “Texans are already gaming. The issue is whether we will continue to allow out-of-state interests to poach $2.5 billion from our pockets each year.”

75 percent of survey respondents – and 65 percent of Republican respondents – agreed with the statement:

“Texans lose billions of dollars to out of state casinos, and are paying for the public schools and highways in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Texas could use that money to improve our own services.”

76 percent of respondents said they have gambled, including 70 percent of Republican primary voters. Two-thirds of Republican respondents and the total sample support, “adding additional law enforcement to crack down on illegal gambling operations that currently exist in Texas.”

“A clear majority of Texans support a vote on legal gaming, and shutting down unlicensed and illegal gaming operations around the state,” said Bearse. “Texans are the freest people on earth, and they are tired of having to sneak across the border to enjoy casino-style gaming. It is time to let Texans decide this issue once and for all.”

Survey data is available at Let Texans Decide is a growing organization composed of race track and casino interests, and supported by dozens of chambers of commerce and business leaders, in addition to various locally elected officials. The mission of the organization is to put expanded gaming to a vote during a constitutional amendment election.

 | Categories: News |

by Eric Mitchell,
Date Posted: 2/14/2013 1:55:52 PM
Last Updated: 2/15/2013 10:33:12 AM

An online survey of Texas racehorse breeders, owners and trainers shows 43% intend to reduce their investment in the state’s racing industry in 2013.

Texas HORSE, a coalition of racing, showing and eventing organizations, conducted the eight-question survey from Jan. 15 through Feb. 8.

“This is very clear proof that our Texas racehorse breeders, owners and trainers are moving their racing operations primarily to the surrounding states of Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, where the purses and breeders awards are significantly increased by slot machines at the racetracks,” said Dan Fick, executive director of Texas HORSE, which conducted the survey through and Texas horse racing industry e-newsletters.

The survey’s results also showed 81% of the respondents already race in other states and that half reported at least 75% of their racing is done out of state.

Texas HORSE has been lobbying the Texas Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment this session allowing Texas voters to decide whether slot machines should be permitted at racetracks. If passed, the Texas horse racing industry would be able to compete with surrounding states that have gaming, according to Fick.

Micah McKinney, vice president of Reliance Ranches, said the discrepancy in purses is hurting his family-owned breeding and training business in Llano, Texas.

“In 2007, our family moved to Llano to raise Texas-bred Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds to primarily race at Texas tracks,” McKinney said. “Since that time, as purse monies and race opportunities have declined in Texas and increased in Oklahoma and New Mexico, our focus has shifted to racing in those states. We may soon be forced to move our breeding operations to those states in order to survive and prosper.”

A recent poll by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research shows that 82% of 1,001 registered Texas voters support putting the expansion of gaming in Texas on the ballot for the voters to decide, according to Texas HORSE. A 2011 “Economic and Tax Revenue Impact of Slot Machines at Racetracks in Texas” by TXP,  Inc. of Austin, Texas, showed that slot machines at licensed Texas racetracks could produce at maturity as much as $1 billion in state tax revenues.

Who Responded to the Survey
(of 287 Texas-based respondents)

• 245 are racehorse owners, 185 are breeders and 68 are trainers
• 54% own six or more horses and 20% own 20 or more
• 79% currently race in Texas

How They Answered the Survey

• 81% also currently race in other states
• 50% said 75% or more of their racing is conducted out of state
• 38% have an investment of more than $250,000 in horse racing in Texas
• 50% have annual expenses of more than $50,000 in horse racing in Texas
• 43% said they will reduce their investment in the Texas horse racing industry in 2013

 | Categories: Uncategorized |

Originally published February 17, 2013 at 10:45 p.m., updated February 18, 2013 at 9:11 a.m.

Current Texas bills on gambling

  • Senate Bill 55, House Bill 109: Relating to local-option elections to legalize or prohibit eight-liner gaming machines, impose a fee on eight-liner owners
  • Senate Joint Resolution 6: A constitutional amendment to create the Texas Gaming Commission, authorize and regulate casino …
  • SHOW ALL »

Current Texas bills on gambling

  • Senate Bill 55, House Bill 109: Relating to local-option elections to legalize or prohibit eight-liner gaming machines, impose a fee on eight-liner owners
  • Senate Joint Resolution 6: A constitutional amendment to create the Texas Gaming Commission, authorize and regulate casino games and slot machines by a limited number of licensed operators and certain Indian tribes and authorize a limited state video lottery system to be operated at horse and greyhound racetracks and on Indian tribal lands.
  • House Joint Bill 47: A constitutional amendment to establish a state gaming commission, authorize and provide for the regulation of gaming conducted at certain locations in the state, authorize federally recognized Indian tribes to conduct gaming on certain Indian lands and require the governor to call the Legislature into special session to consider gaming legislation.
  • House Bill 394, Senate Bill 282: Relating to limiting bingo prizes
  • House Bill 292: Authorizing and regulating poker gaming

Source: Texas Legislature Online,

Gaming is nothing new to Texans. Throughout the state, bingo halls are scattered on a legal, local-option basis.

Voters created the Texas Lottery Commission by a constitutional amendment in 1991. In 1987, voters opened legal betting on horse and dog racing for the first time in more than 50 years.

One of casinos’ most popular card games is named for the Lone Star State: Texas Hold ‘Em.

Texas lawmakers are looking at a bill that would bring expanded gambling to a constitutional amendment.

While supporters of the bill say expanded gambling will contribute $8.5 billion to the state, opponents say the revenue increases are promises – not guarantees.

The casino ship Texas Treasure docked and departed from Harbor Island inside Port Aransas city limits.

Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Vaughan said the city has not taken a stance for or against gambling.

“There are people who are adamantly opposed to it and people who are adamantly in support of it,” Vaughan said.

Port Aransas never did an economic study on the casino ship, but once it left for good, the city saw a dip in sales tax revenue.

Vaughan said Texas Treasure “was not an economic generator” in itself, but gamblers stayed in town, ate at area restaurants and filled up their vehicles with gas before heading home.

Although it has been gone for years, Vaughan said, the chamber still gets inquiries about it.

“We have people who just show up in Port Aransas and are absolutely stunned when they find out the ship’s not there and has been gone for some time,” she said. “After it left, it surprised me that it was as popular as it was.”

If expanded gaming were to come back, she said, the city could benefit from an upscale facility with amenities the city currently does not offer.

“If it is presented in a manner or passed in a way that would be beneficial to the community and some restrictions on it … We don’t want to see Port Aransas turn into every other town,” Vaughan said. “We’re unique and different, a fun, funky, family destination,”

Pro: If done right, gambling can benefit Texas

Con: Benefit from gambling exaggerated, cost real

 | Categories: Uncategorized |

Originally published February 17, 2013 at 10:45 p.m., updated February 18, 2013 at 12:23 a.m.

While it’s heads or tails whether Texas’ lawmakers will approve legislation to expand gaming, one supporter thinks the odds are good.

As the face of expanded gambling in Texas, John Montford argued that Texans are smart enough to decide whether to allow expanded gambling this side of the border. Montford is chairman of Let Texans Decide and a former prosecutor, state lawmaker, Texas Tech chancellor and AT&T executive.

He wants a referendum to let Texans vote on a constitutional amendment on gaming.

“Everywhere I go, it’s been received very well,” Montford said.

His campaign initially supported expanded gaming on the state’s 13 horse and greyhound tracks but said the group will support “whatever comes out of the Legislature” if it addresses extended gaming.

A pro-gambling study indicated that Texans spend $2.5 billion annually on gaming in Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Let Texans Decide argues that figure shows Texans are already gaming in large numbers and represent as much as 85 percent of the patrons at casinos in Oklahoma.

The study projects expanded stateside gaming will contribute $8.5 billion in total economic activity and create 75,000 new jobs.

“There are no guarantees in any projection, whether you talk about state budget or revenues,” Montford said. “I do believe it will stimulate significant investment in Texas and good-paying jobs.”

Mike Sizemore, a Victoria businessman, said he has followed the issue for several years.

“Texans should really just vote on this,” Sizemore said. “Polls show that people of both political parties are in support of it.”

While gambling is a personal decision, he said, Texans who send significant amounts to neighboring states should have the option to place their bets here.

He said he believes the issue would pass overwhelming if brought to a vote.

“It’ll happen one day. I personally don’t think it will happen this session,” he said.

He supports the issue with limitations that would keep it in specific areas and so Texans across the state benefit from the revenue.

“If done right, it can benefit the state,” Sizemore said.

 | Categories: Uncategorized |

By Jim Witt

With the Legislature in session, the question of legalizing casino gambling returned like clockwork.

With the lottery, bingo and betting on the horses and dogs all legal, why doesn’t Texas allow casinos or at least slot machines? After all, supporters say, look at all the money flowing out of state to our neighbors in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana? We’re building their roads and schools for them.

Do a quick license plate check at WinStar near Gainesville on the Oklahoma border. It’s the second-biggest casino in North America, and you’ll find it’s 90 percent Texan (even the workers). The same goes for Shreveport (except for the workers).

Nobody enjoys a casino more than I do; my vacations usually involve a visit to a casino at some point. A few hours at a blackjack table or the slots are entertainment to me.

During the 30 years I’ve been visiting casinos, I figure I’m at least a little bit ahead. My wife and I have won several jackpots ranging from $1,500 to $10,000.

I’m an Elvis fan and once won $2,500 playing quarters at an Elvis-themed slot machine in Biloxi, Miss.

So you’d think I’d be on the side of legalizing casinos in Texas.

But I’m not.

It’s not that I fear having a casino nearby will be too tempting, and that I’ll go more often. It’s just that I look forward to doing it a few times a year, and having it too close will make it less special.

I’m a golfer, too, and it’s kind of the way I feel about that. When I retire, being able to play golf any time I want will make it less fun. Part of the enjoyment of golf is looking forward to it. And very few casinos other than “destination” ones in places like Las Vegas or the Bahamas are fun. They are usually pretty depressing. If you’ve been to Shreveport, you know it’s pretty much like Atlantic City, only without the ocean. Shreveport’s casinos haven’t attracted other development and have ruined business for other restaurants and entertainment venues in the city because they can’t compete. The casinos can use artificially low prices at their nongambling attractions because they make it up at the tables and slot machines.

I do believe, however, that the issue of casino gambling should be put before Texas voters, like the lottery and horse-racing bills were. But legalizing casino gambling in Texas is a high fence to jump, and with the economy turning around, I don’t see it happening. It takes voters approving a constitutional amendment, but first, two-thirds of the Legislature has to agree to put something on the ballot. A majority in the Senate and House will not take that chance absent some special reason that I don’t see right now.

As for casino supporters who point to all the money from Texas gamblers going to other states, wouldn’t that same argument apply to marijuana? After all, Colorado just legalized the consumption of pot. All our Texas smokers are going to be traveling up there pretty soon to spend their money!

Gamblers spent $33 billion in U.S. casinos last year, while estimates are that if marijuana were taxed it would raise $31 billion. You’ve got to figure legalizing marijuana here would raise as much for the state as legalizing casinos, don’t you?

Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7704

Twitter: @jimelvis

Read more here:
 | Categories: News |

By Anna M. Tinsley

ALONG THE RED RIVER — Nona Dean has a weekly ritual.

She and her husband leave their Denton home, cross the Red River and head to WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, ready to take their chances on slot machines.

“We just do it for fun,” she said. “We don’t do anything else [for entertainment]. This is our fun.”

But if she had the chance to gamble at a casino in Texas, where tax dollars could go to funding state needs such as education, she’d do it in a heartbeat, she said.

“Our money would stay in Texas,” she said.

She and many other Texans drive to neighboring states — Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico — and spend billions of dollars a year playing machines and tables and dabbling in off-track betting.

State lawmakers have a proposal on the table to consider allowing casinos in Texas and keep those gamblers, and that money, in the state.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed a bill to let Texans vote on allowing a limited number of legal gambling sites in Texas — slot machines at horse and greyhound racetracks, and Las Vegas-style casinos in urban areas, on Indian tribal land and in tourist destinations on islands in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Clearly we need the money,” Ellis has said. “The people deserve the right to choose whether they want to move forward with an option to bring back the jobs and money to Texas we are giving away to other states.

“If the Legislature will give the people of Texas a chance to vote, clearly the people of Texas are ready for it.”

But like similar proposals in past legislative sessions, the bill to make casino gambling legal in Texas may not have the odds in its favor.

Gambling opponents have long argued that casinos won’t generate the long-term revenue lawmakers hope for. They fear that even if limited, the number of casinos allowed would quickly grow. And they worry that the bulk of the revenue generated at casinos would come from local residents who can least afford it — not from out-of-town tourists.

“There are folks walking around the Capitol saying, ‘Let folks decide,’” said Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Christian Life Commission, which is part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “That’s the oldest trick around here. Folks do decide — in the primary and general elections.

“If it was so popular and everybody wanted it in Texas, people would be running on that issue,” he said. “But they aren’t.”

Economic impact

Let Texans Decide, which supports casinos in Texas, was formed last year to encourage lawmakers to put the issue before Texas voters. Organizers recruited former state Sen. John Montford, a Democrat who went on to be chancellor of the Texas Tech University System and work for companies including General Motors and Southwestern Bell, to help.

“Texas is hemorrhaging money in the billions to our neighboring states,” said Montford, a spokesman for the group. “We are surrounded.”

Ellis’ bill, he said, is a starting point.

The goal, Montford said, is to let the bill evolve and develop as lawmakers work together to create a proposal the conservative 2013 Legislature can approve and put before voters. Especially as studies report that 90 percent of the customers at casinos on the Texas-Oklahoma border are Texans.

“We think the people of Texas are smart enough and ready to decide this issue,” he said.

According to the group:

Adding casinos to racetracks in Texas could create 75,000 jobs, show $8.5 billion in statewide economic growth and benefit 40 industries including agriculture, construction and tourism.

Casinos at Texas racetracks could generate $1 billion in taxes each year.

Texans already spend more than $2.5 billion a year at casinos in states near Texas.

Dozens of chambers of commerce, including Arlington’s, and other groups have thrown their support behind giving voters a chance to decide whether to bring casinos to this state.

The group has started a petition that has drawn more than 5,300 signatures to encourage lawmakers to let Texans vote on the issue.

Montford said there’s a reason a casino bill hasn’t passed before, despite bills being filed nearly every session for decades.

“The out-of-state interests have put so much money in Texas politics that they have been able to stop it,” he said. “They will fight it. They don’t want anything to change in Texas because the people of Texas are funding a whole lot in Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

“My hat’s off to them,” he said. “They are outsmarting us. And they will put a whole bunch of money into this to make sure nothing changes.”


Kohler has been meeting with newly elected members of the Legislature recently, hoping to talk to them about what he sees as perils of expanding gambling in Texas.

Supporters used the same arguments — generally, a large economic windfall for Texas — to persuade legislators to approve the Texas lottery and pari-mutuel wagering. But those opportunities haven’t been enough for gambling supporters, he said, and they want more.

“This is not about economic development,” Kohler said. “It’s sold as that, but it’s not. We’ve been tricked before with pari-mutuel wagering and the lottery.”

Kohler said that casinos in Texas simply won’t generate the taxes projected by supporters and that the majority of money will come from people living near a casino. And if gambling is expanded in Texas, he said, it will quickly grow because of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

But he said he doesn’t expect the proposal to gain any traction.

“At the end of the day, every two years, we … see special-interest folks trying to make this an issue,” he said. “There’s not a will there — not in the House and not in the Senate.”

Others oppose the move as well.

Amid calls for new state revenue, “some big spenders just happen to have a ready-made solution, a magic moneymaking elixir: expanded gambling. And some conservatives are foolishly lapping it up,” Michael Quinn Sullivan, president and CEO of Empower Texans, an Austin-based conservative group, said last year. “Let’s be clear: Texans are not under-taxed; our problem is that tax dollars are often poorly spent.

“The emphasis in 2013 must rest on fixing past budget gimmicks, weeding out inefficient and ineffective programs, and examining how services are provided,” he said. “Today, Texans are being sold on the expansion of gambling as a way to bring new revenues into state coffers. Don’t be fooled.”

The Republican Party of Texas weighed in on the issue last year, including a plank in its platform that objects to any new gambling in the state.

“We oppose the expansion of legalized gambling and encourage the repeal of the Texas State lottery,” the platform states. “We oppose dedicating any government revenue from gambling to create or expand any government program.”

The specifics

As written, Ellis’ bill calls for profits above and beyond what it would take to operate a new Texas Gaming Commission to help lower property taxes.

That commission would oversee issuing no more than eight licenses for slot machines to horse and greyhound racetracks, no more than six licenses for casinos in urban areas and no more than two licenses for casinos on islands in the Gulf. The commission could also let Indian tribes recognized by the U.S. government operate slot machines or casino gambling on their land in Texas.

Texas has 13 racetracks. The only one in the Metroplex is Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.

The others stretch from Amarillo to Fredericksburg to Houston, Corpus Christi and locations in the Valley. Also, the state has three federally recognized Indian tribes: the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in Livingston; the Tigua Indians, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, in El Paso; and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in Eagle Pass, according to Let Texans Decide.

“I want gaming like they have in Las Vegas where they have the pretty people come in and spend their money,” Ellis has said.

“I want those folks who can afford the high-dollar nipping and tucking and spend millions of dollars on clothes and hotel rooms.

“I want all those things that come with casino gaming.”

Ellis’ bill — Senate Joint Resolution 6 — has yet to be referred to a Senate committee for revenue.

Oklahoma gambling

Years ago, many North Texans would drive to Shreveport to take their chances at casinos.

But as casinos in Oklahoma have been built in recent years, many North Texans have headed there, preferring the shorter drive.

Kathy Dececio of Azle heads to WinStar, off Interstate 35 in Thackerville, which has a 500,000-square-foot gaming floor with eight themed gaming plazas, table games, bingo, keno and off-track betting.

Dececio and her husband, Frank, go to the casino once every couple of months and say they’d gladly give their business to casinos in Texas — if that ever became an option.

“We certainly wouldn’t come here so much,” she said.

WinStar is owned by the Chickasaw Nation, which also owns other casinos along I-35 in Oklahoma as well as businesses including smoke shops, bingo halls, truck stations, radio stations — and Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.

It isn’t the only group with ties to casinos to put roots down in Texas.

Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment has been given the go-ahead to buy into the racing interest at the Retama Park racetrack in San Antonio. And Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming plays a key role in running the Sam Houston Race Park in Houston and the Valley Race Park in Harlingen, as it will at a racetrack planned in Laredo.

WinStar has grown through the years, adding more square footage to its casino, not to mention a spa, shops, an inn, a 27-hole golf course, a variety of eateries and a 2,500-seat Global Events Center, which has recently presented performers including Matchbox 20 and Diana Ross.

When looking at ongoing expansion and construction at the casino recently, Dean, of Denton, just smiled.

“Texans are building this,” she said with a shrug.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

 | Categories: News |

AUSTIN –  Local chambers of commerce in cities across Texas have announced their support for giving Texas voters the opportunity to decide on casino-style gaming at the ballot box.”Chambers representing more than 15,000 business owners recognize Texas is hemorrhaging money to neighboring states because we have not allowed the people of Texas to vote on casino-style gaming,” said John T. Montford, chair for Let Texas Decide. “$2.5 billion in spent annually in Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico by Texans which helps pay for their roads, schools and hospitals. It’s time to let Texans decide whether they want to keep those dollars and jobs in Texas.”

In addition to receiving the support of the state’s leading business organization – the Texas Association of Business – a gaming referendum is also supported by various local chambers of commerce, including: the Harlingen Chamber, the Houston Hispanic Chamber, the Houston Intercontinental Chamber of Commerce, the Houston Northwest Chamber, the Jasper-Lake Sam Rayburn Area Chamber, the Texas City La-Marque Chamber, the Katy Area Chamber, the North San Antonio Chamber, the Randolph Metrocom Chamber, and the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce. (For a full list of current supporters, visit

“Business knows the expansion of gaming will be a boon for the economy, creating 75,000 Texas jobs and $8.5 billion in annual economic growth,” said Montford. “This is about jobs, growth and freedom. Let’s keep Texans gaming in Texas, not building Oklahoma’s future infrastructure.”

“It is better to regulate gaming and capture the revenue for the benefit of taxpayers than to turn a blind eye to existing illegal gaming operations while forcing Texans to take their entertainment dollars out of state,” said Montford.

Let Texans Decide is dedicated to providing the citizens of Texas the opportunity to vote on the expansion of gaming in Texas through the passage of a constitutional amendment in the Texas Legislature. This effort has the support of chamber organizations and business leaders across Texas in addition to leaders in the gaming industry.

 | Categories: Breaking News, News |

by Steve Blow, Dallas News

Normally I don’t like to quibble with letters to the editor. That’s where readers get their say, and I’m all for it.

But on the other hand, I hate to see the spread of bad information, especially on matters of public policy. Good decisions rest on good data.

So I cringed to read a letter last week that just didn’t have the ring of truth. I did a little research and now let me set the record straight: Vicksburg has not turned into a zombie wasteland.

In the letter, a Lavon resident wrote: “Vicksburg, Miss., used to be one of my favorite small cities in America; tons of Southern charm. It all changed when riverboat casinos came to town.

“Last time I stopped there, the casinos had been there just less than a year, but I knew something wasn’t quite right; lots of cold stares, if anyone looked at me at all.”

He went on to say that in a causal chat, a local utility worker told him service disconnections and crime “had gone through the roof” in Vicksburg.

Well, it’s hard to quantify “cold stares.” The writer makes a visit to Vicksburg sound like an episode of The Walking Dead. But crime and utility disconnects are easy to count. And officials in Vicksburg tell me neither went up when casinos opened there almost 20 years ago now.

Nicole Bradshaw is a spokeswoman for the electric utility Entergy. She said company analysts examined service disconnections and late payments after the arrival of casinos in both Vicksburg and Tunica.

“They saw no measurable adverse effect,” Bradshaw said. And she said disconnections in Vicksburg remain at the same level as the rest of the state.

I heard the same story from Tammye Christmas, manager of Vicksburg’s city-owned gas and water utilities. She has been with the department 28 years. “The casinos had no impact on disconnects or late payments here,” she said.

Ditto on crime, said Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong. He has worked in law enforcement around Vicksburg for almost 30 years and saw no change from the casinos.

This all comes up, of course, because the Texas Legislature is back in session. There is talk again of bringing casinos to Texas.

And if some are opposed, that’s fine. But we sure shouldn’t decide the matter based on urban legends and offhand conversations.

Gambling is one area where I’m all in favor of Texas legislators passing the buck. Pass it to us, the people of Texas. Just call a statewide vote on the matter and let Texans have their say.

And in the process, we could have a robust debate that separates fact from fiction about the impact of casinos, both pro and con.

Personally, I don’t much care for casinos. As a practical matter, I just can’t see Texans continuing to subsidize the taxpayers of Oklahoma, Louisiana and Nevada in such a generous way. We could sure use those jobs and taxes right here.

If a compelling case can be made that casinos are bad, I’m eager to hear it and would vote accordingly.

But here’s what I see. Thirty years ago, there were two states with casinos, Nevada and New Jersey. Today, there are 38 states with casino gambling. Twenty-four came through state approval. The rest have American Indian casinos.

Holly Wetzel of the American Gaming Association said the list of casino states grows by one or two almost every year. I asked her if experience has led any states with casinos to outlaw them.

“Nope,” she said. In fact, in a survey conducted last year, a whopping 83 percent of local political officials and community leaders in those states called the arrival of casinos an overall positive thing, she said.

Legislators, allow us a vote. More importantly, allow us a debate based on facts.

 | Categories: Breaking News, News, Quick Links |

By Ray Paulick,

Texas horse racing reminds me a little bit of the Alamo right now, surrounded by stronger, more powerful forces to the east, west and north where Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma all have racing and breeding programs enhanced through revenue from slot machines or other forms of gambling.

And despite Texas being home to six of America’s top 25 cities by population (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso) and the state’s citizens having a longtime association with horses, its horse industry may soon resemble the aftermath of that famous 1836 battle between Mexico and the Texian Army led by William Travis.

Many current-day Texans are hoping Dan Fick will ride to the rescue of the horse industry. Recently named executive director of the advocacy organization, Texas HORSE, Fick is no stranger to horse racing in the Lone Star State, having spent 20 years from 1984 to 2003 in Amarillo working for the American Quarter Horse Association, where he was the director of racing. He jumped breeds to Thoroughbreds in 2003, working as executive director of The Jockey Club in Lexington. He also served as director of racing at Remington Park, getting first-hand knowledge of how gaming can improve the economics of horse racing for track owners and horsemen alike.

While Fick doesn’t officially take on his new position until Jan. 1, he offered these insights on what it will take to reverse the fortunes of the ailing Texas horse industry.

When and why was the Texas Horse Organizations for Racing, Showing and Eventing formed and what has been its primary focus?
Texas HORSE was formed in 2008 by the Texas-based horse breed registries and horsemen’s associations to preserve the $5.2 billion Texas horse industry, which continues to lose horses, breeders, owners, trainers, jobs and billions of dollars to surrounding states. State governments that have approved expanded gaming at racetracks have exponentially increased purses and established effective equine stimulus programs.

I see that many of the groups in Texas HORSE are not involved in pari-mutuel wagering. Why are they part of this?
Texas HORSE was formed by the American Quarter Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association, and American Paint Horse Association, which are national organizations headquartered in Texas, and who collectively represent millions of horse owners and breeders within our state. The additional founding members were the Texas Thoroughbred Association, Texas Horsemen’s Partnership, Texas Arabian Horse Breeders Association, Texas Quarter Horse Association and the Texas Paint Horse Association, which are all directly involved in the Texas racing industry.

The founders recognized that Texas was the number one state in horse population and horse enthusiasts. They believed that any legislation passed in Texas should include funding for equine stimulus programs for all aspects of the Texas horse industry including show and performance horses, recreation, rodeo and youth activities. The legislation that Texas HORSE has proposed and supports includes a Performance Horse Development Fund that channels monies from new gaming revenues to support these and other equine programs.

Why has progress been so difficult in Texas, compared with other neighboring states, when it comes to issues related to legislation that will benefit the horse industry?
There are a couple of good reasons. Historically, gaming issues have always been difficult to pass in Texas. It took 50 years and 25 consecutive legislative sessions before the Texas horse industry was able to pass pari-mutuel legislation to restore horse racing in Texas after it was abolished in the 1930s. Texas was one of the last states to pass a lottery constitutional amendment. In addition, the Texas state government has a long history of fiscal responsibility and thanks to a surging oil and gas industry, the legislature has usually not been faced with significant shortfalls in funding the state budget.  And the severe economic depression of the Texas horse industry apparently has yet to make a significant impression upon the majority of our elected officials.

What has been the practical result of public policy on gambling related issues in Texas as far as breeding statistics, racing and jobs?
Down, down and further down! The declining statistics from 2002 to 2011 are overwhelming.

2011………2002 ….…%Change
– Thoroughbred mares bred……….1,168……….3,628………. -68%
– T’bred stallions standing……………..188…………438………. -57%
– Thoroughbred foal crop..………….….800………1,952………. -59%
– Thoroughbred purses………$15,218,740…$32,601,743.. -53%
– Thoroughbred races…………………….995………2,075………. -52%
– Thoroughbred starters……………..2,506………4,694……….. -47%
– Thoroughbred race dates…………….121…………223……….. -46%
– All-Breeds live wagering…$126,574,879..$490,913,650. -74%
(on-track & export)

The statistics for American Quarter Horses, Arabians and Paint Horses are in a comparable rate of decline. As for jobs lost, a good indicator is the number of Texas Racing Commission licensees which has declined by 45% since 2002, from 15,466 to 8,484.

Texas has very limited off-track wagering opportunities and prohibits advance-deposit wagering. Isn’t it a pretty big leap to go from the current restrictive environment to one that permits slot machines or casinos?
Texas law actually prohibits all off-track wagering except for inter-track simulcast wagering. Simulcast wagering is only legal at licensed racetracks currently in operation or under construction.  This is the case for the simulcast-only facility, Saddle Brook Park, that opened in Amarillo this past weekend. One of the historically more successful inter-track wagering facilities, Manor Downs in the Austin state capitol market, closed in 2010 due to the continuing decline in financial feasibility.

To try to answer your question from my limited perspective after just returning to the Texas horse industry after 10 years living in Kentucky, the legislative philosophy of the horse racing industry in recent sessions has been to primarily focus on VLTs at racetracks for three reasons.

First, VLTs would have the most significant impact on the financial viability for the racetracks and would raise the most funding for the state government. Second, OTBs and advance deposit wagering would expand the footprint of gaming in Texas, which is the hallmark defense of the anti-gaming advocates in Texas. VLTs, however, would be at the existing track licensees and would be regulated by the Texas Lottery Commission. Finally, there are many who believe that if the horse racing industry comes with a number of expanded gaming proposals – VLTs, OTB, ADW, Instant Racing machines, poker rooms – the legislators might not even consider VLTs or perhaps create an omnibus bill that would have no chance of passage.

While I tend to agree something is better than nothing, there have been several states that have gone straight to racinos due to the competition from in-state casinos and expanded gaming in surrounding states. I believe Oklahoma, New Mexico, Indiana and Iowa fit that scenario.

What are the obstacles: Is it just politicians in Austin or is outside money from casino companies playing a major role?
With the recently-formed partnerships of Penn Gaming and Sam Houston Race Park, and Retama Park and Pinnacle Gaming, plus the acquisition of Lone Star Park by Global Gaming, I don’t think out-of-state casino companies can have anywhere near the impact in Austin that these three companies bring to the Texas racetracks’ gaming initiatives. As previously mentioned, the primary reason that Texas gaming initiatives have been unsuccessful to date is that the state legislature has traditionally opposed expanded gaming and has not been significantly pressed to balance the state budget with new sources of revenue. Additionally, the legislators and their staffs have apparently not been sufficiently informed about the tremendous impact our horse industry has on the Texas economy.

The dream of Class 1 racing in Texas was big when voters approved the return of pari-mutuel wagering 25 years ago. What does the future of horse racing in Texas look like today?
Simply put, without expanded gaming in Texas, I am not sure how many more years the tracks and remaining horse breeders and owners can continue to lose money when the opportunities continue to be so dramatically better in a number of other states. I would not be surprised to see tracks giving serious consideration to ceasing live racing by 2015 without significant relief from the legislature. Remember, once passed in the legislature, there must be a constitutional referendum, adoption of regulatory rules, applications for gaming licenses, financing, construction and training which can take several years.

If, however, the tracks do receive gaming relief this session, and if the other gaming venues that the legislature might also permit in Texas have a comparable tax rate, I believe Texas could easily become one of the top three major racing states in the next five years.

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The Board of Directors of Texas H.O.R.S.E has hired horse racing industry executive Dan Fick of Granbury, Texas to the position of executive director effective January 1, 2013. The current executive director Val Clark is leaving Texas H.O.R.S.E.  to pursue other career opportunities, and will be working closely with Dan to facilitate an efficient transition. During her  3 ½  year tenure at Texas H.O.R.S.E. since it’s inception, Ms. Clark has successfully positioned and effectively established Texas H.O.R.S.E. as the spokesperson and advocate for the horse industry in Texas, especially before the state government in Austin.

Dan Fick has been an executive administrator in the horse industry for 30 years, having served as the American Quarter Horse Association Executive Director of Racing from 1984-2003; the Executive Director for The Thoroughbred Jockey Club from 2003-2009; and the Director of Racing at Remington Park in Oklahoma City from 2011-2012.

“I look forward to working with all aspects of the horse industry to promote the best interests of Texas horsemen and women, and to substantially improve and expand their opportunities to breed, race, show and enjoy their horses in Texas.”

Texas HORSE is a non-profit association formed to preserve the $5.2 billion Texas Horse Industry which has been the #1 state in horses and horse enthusiasts in the U.S.  The Texas HORSE board of directors consists of one representative from each of the eight founding Texas based horse organizations and one director at large. The immediate goal of Texas H.O.R.S.E. is to promote the passage of legislation in Austin to provide a competitive balance in this region to reverse the trend of Texas horse breeders and owners going to surrounding states to breed, race and show their horses. The Texas horse industry is losing horses, jobs, and money to neighboring states because their governments have provided better opportunities to Texas horsemen and women than are available at home in Texas. These opportunities exist only because surrounding states offer expanded gaming programs at their racetracks, which provide funds for increased purses and equine industry stimulation programs.

For more information about Texas H.O.R.S.E., contact Val Clark at 512-731-4637 and Dan Fick at 817-845-2917, and go to or

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