(Warning: For the first time, Post Parade gets political)
Grim news out of Austin: Texas racetracks are dark.
It's no secret that Texas horse racing has its trouble, which, for the most part, stems from the fact that purses are crappy. The Proud Texas Horsemen - if they haven't bolted to Louisiana or Oklahoma - turned to the Texas Racing Commission to maybe do something other than enjoy the buffet in the Silks Restaurant at Lone Star Park.
So this year, they complied.
A quick hit of history: In 1987, Texas voters approved the referendum to legalize parimutuel wagering, notably at horse and dog tracks. To oversee parimutuel wagering, the Texas Racing Commission, or TxRC was created. And, it should be noted that these folks of the TxRC are not elected officials, but are appointed by the governor. And, it should be further noted that governors of the past couple administrations have been conservatives, ergo, the TxRC didn't really have to do a whole lot. Why piss off the governor and lose your place in the buffet line?
Oh, and another history note: Instant Racing machines did not exist in 1987.
Now let's zoom along to 2014: The TxRC, listening to the wails and moaning of Texas horsemen, stepped up and offered up assistance. "Hey! Our commission was created to oversee parimutuel wagering! And these Instant Racing electronic devices are, in theory, a form of parimutuel gaming! Let's approve it and see what happens!" Hoping for the best - or even a day in court - there were now possibilities to assist the Proud Texas Horsemen. This called for a celebration by getting back into the buffet line for seconds on prime rib.
The celebration was short lived when the 84th Texas Legislature convened (Motto: "A gun in every house and a fetus in every uterus"). The TxRC received excessive whipping, especially by Sen. Jane Nelson (R- Flower Mound ... which, ironically, used to be big horse farm country but is now laced with expensive home developments in subdivisions called "Bridlewood" and "Saddle Oaks"). She called the commission "rogue", that they overstepped their authority, and threatened to dissolve and defund the TxRC if they didn't repeal their approval. Instead of using things the that make America great, i.e., a court of law, Sen Nelson and a few other conservative legislators became the playground bullies.
And here's another note: The TxRC is a self-funded agency. Funds are collected through the licenses of tracks, horsemen, parimutuel clerks, etc. It's not taxpayer money. The monies collected go to the LBB, or Legislative Budget Boobs, who then return it to the TxRC for funding. So not only is this group of legislators playground bullies, they're the playground bullies who also took your lunch money.
August 25, 2015: The Texas Racing Commission stood its ground. They stood with the Proud Texas Horsemen. If they repealed their approval of Instant Racing, any challenges in court - along with hopes of bolstering purses and improving Texas racing - would be gone.
Yesterday was the end of the TxRC fiscal year. Texas lawmakers couldn't get a deal done and as the midnight deadline loomed, the TxRC called for Sam Houston Race Park to close and cease operations at midnight. Last one out the door, turn off the lights.
Lone Star Park is open this morning, but you cannot place a wager or cash a ticket. Feel free to pop in to the Bar & Book for broadcasts of baseball, football, cricket etc. and, in the very least, enjoy the Bar part. That's open for business ... for now, anyways.
As a Texas voter, I for one, am very appalled at the irresponsibility of a handful of lawmakers who, by using bully tactics, shut down an entire industry and affected tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. Sure, one can question, "Did the Texas Racing Commission overstep its authority?" Maybe. Maybe not. That's depends on if you consider Instant Racing "parimutuel" or not. And is it considered "expanded gaming". And I don't believe that is a question that Sen. Nelson and the LBB are in the position to answer. And any lawmaker that makes good on threats and affects the livelihood of individuals should be troubling.
Hopefully, this a short-lived temporary interruption in horse racing and the lives of all those who work in the industry. We'll be watching for resolution ... as we sit here in the dark.