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Racetracks back in business after deal on commission funding

A legislative deal was reached Sept. 1 to resume funding for the Texas Racing Commission, bringing a quick end to an impasse that caused the state’s racetracks to suspend racing and wagering on Aug. 31.

At Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, officials reported “business as usual” Wednesday with wagering resumed on races simulcast from other tracks around the country, and live quarterhorse racing scheduled to begin on Sept. 18.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the racing commission funding agreement, which was subsequently approved by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“I am very pleased to announce that House Appropriations Chairman John Otto has joined the Senate Legislative Budget Board (LBB) members’ plan to extend temporary administrative funding for the Texas Racing Commission,” Patrick said in a statement posted on the lieutenant governor’s website. “This authorization immediately allows the commission to operate for the next 90 days.”

The Texas Racing Commission regulates horse and dog racing in the state.

The Legislative Budget Board had withheld money the commission needed to operate because of an ongoing dispute over “historical racing,” a form of gambling that uses video terminals to allow betting on previously run races with identifying information removed. The Racing Commission has voted to allow racetracks to offer historical racing, drawing the ire of lawmakers who maintain that the machines represent a new form of gambling that requires approval by the Legislature.

The Legislative Budget Board shut off funds for the racing commission Aug. 31 after the commission refused to rescind its approval of historical racing.

Patrick said Tuesday’s agreement will allow time for legislators and the commission to resolve the dispute.

“Any disagreement with the commission that resulted in this stalemate was never about ending horse and dog racing in Texas,” Patrick said in his statement. “Instead, it was about making sure the appointed commissioners follow the law … I appreciate the hard work of Chairman Otto and Chairwoman Jane Nelson for working to resolve this issue today.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, a member of the Legislative Budget Board and was a leading advocate of the funding cutoff.

The racing commission’s $7.7 million annual budget comes from licensing and fees paid by the racetracks, but the budget board must appropriate that money.

Jennifer Saenz, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa D-McAllen, confirmed the temporary funding agreement Wednesday and said that discussions will be ongoing regarding the commission’s full two-year budget of $15.4 million.

Only part of the $15.4 million budget was creating the stalemate among budget board leaders – $1.5 million to pay for administrative and payroll costs.

A representative from Nelson’s office said Wednesday’s agreement allows the racing commission to transfer $186,000 of its remaining undisputed $13.9 appropriated funds to pay for three months of administrative costs. The transfer of the $186,000 required Gov. Abbott’s approval.

Abbott also is responsible for filling three expired terms on the racing commission. He is expected to do that during the 90-day funding extension.

This story includes material from the Texas Tribune. Read the Tribune’s complete story here.

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