Texas Racing Commission deal reached; funded to November

The Texas Racing Commission ceased operations Tuesday and directed racetracks to stop all live and broadcast racing, according to the agency.  

The commission, which regulates dog and horse racing in the state, notified tracks Monday night that it had not received the money necessary to remain open. Texas House and Senate members of the Legislative Budget Board failed to reach an agreement Monday to avert a shutdown. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Tuesday evening the two sides had reached a compromise deal to fund the agency through November while not approving the full $15.4 million two-year budget the agency had requested. It was unclear Tuesday if the deal was official, or when it would take effect. 

Patrick’s announcement, however, came a day after he sparked erroneous reports with a similar statement Monday that a deal had been reached. Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia later said the statement only reflected the Senate’s position. 

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“I hope and think any shutdown will be brief and temporary,” commission spokesman Robert Elrod wrote in an email to reporters late Monday. “In the event of a brief shutdown, the agency has the capability to resume operations very quickly and, if it does come to that, we’ll all be back on the job as soon as possible.” 

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

Republican senators threatened to defund the agency in February, saying the commission overstepped its authority by allowing historical racing — gambling on electronic simulations of past races with identifying information removed. 

Sam Houston Race Park in Houston suspended all races but remained open Tuesday to issue refunds for tickets and allow winners to cash in on past races, said track spokesman Mike Lavigne. 

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The racetrack’s president, Andrea Young, said the LBB should hold a public meeting to reach a deal on Racing Commission funding. 

“Texans deserve transparency in government, especially when the government shuts down their entire business,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday morning. “The time has come for our state’s politicians to come out of hiding and vote in a full meeting of the Legislative Budget Board.” 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/09/01/racing-commission-closed-tracks-suspend-races/.