While Texas lawmakers battle to find a solution, all tracks within the state are temporarily shut down until the Texas Racing Commission can be funded again.
The Texas Racing Commission, which oversees all live and simulcast racing within the state, is caught in political crossfire and closed effective September 1 while lawmakers attempt to reach a solution. It’s hoped that the shutdown is only temporary, but the estimated 36,000-job industry is preparing for the worst-case scenario: permanent track closures and the end of Thoroughbred racing in Texas.
The trouble started when the Texas Racing Commission, or TRC, decided to allow historical racing to take place at state tracks as a new form of gambling, hoping to rejuvenate a declining industry. Historical racing lets gamblers place bets on pre-recorded races with information about the track and horses hidden — essentially, just another game of chance with the handicapping aspect removed. Many lawmakers as well as the general public are opposed to this form of gambling, and the TRC’s move to allow historical racing didn’t go over well. The state Senate and House of Representatives, locked in conflict over historical racing, failed to reach an agreement by midnight, August 31, 2015 regarding the funding of the TRC. As a result, with no funding, the TRC was forced to shut down on September 1.
While it’s the gambling aspect of horse racing that’s making headlines, the shut down of racetracks is quite worrying for the horse industry as well. Whether or not you’re a fan of horse racing on an individual level, the fact that thousands of horses suddenly may not have a job anymore is cause for concern: some trainers and track professionals are already looking outside of the state to Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. However, not everyone out of the 5.5 billion-dollar industry has the luxury of moving camp to a neighboring state.
And as usual when politics grinds things to a halt, those suffering the most will be the horses. What will become of thousands of Thoroughbreds when their venues for competition are shut down? It’s folly to think that all of these horses will be able to find new homes in more racing-friendly states, or second careers as sporthorses. When an entire industry dries up overnight, the outlook is grim for the animals involved.
We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops. Hopefully a solution will be found soon that works best for everyone involved.
UPDATE Thursday, September 3, 2015: A temporary “stop gap” 90-day extension of funding has allowed tracks to reopen. The three-month temporary solution allows most of the tracks with fall meets to complete their racing schedule, which is critical when considering the racing world from the point of view of the horse industry rather than gambling. However, it will be up to Texas lawmakers to work out a permanent solution during this grace period.