The Texas Racing Commission is tasked with overseeing and regulating horse and greyhound racing in Texas. In 2014, the commission decided to legalize “historical racing”.
What’s historical racing, you ask? That’s where bettors use a machine to wager on already-run races whose distinguishing characteristics have been stripped out. In other words, betting real money on imaginary digitized horses, the horses on which they have are theoretically based being, in most likelihood, long dead.
So what law passed by the legislature enabled them to legalize this entirely new form of gambling in Texas?
None. They just made it up after the gambling lobby asked them to. Race tracks say that without historical racing they’ll have to close up shop.
One tiny little problem: Not only has the legislature not approved historical racing machines, they say that the machines violate Texas laws against gambling machines. “‘These rules appear to be an attempt by the Racing Commission to circumvent the Legislature’s authority to decide what types of gambling are and are not legal,’ stated a letter sent at the time by [Texas Sen. Jane] Nelson, [Texas Sen. Craig] Estes and others in the Senate GOP Caucus. ‘This is not an appropriate decision for the Racing Commission.'”
Indeed, they stripped funding from the Texas Racing Commission until such time as they were willing to obey the law.
And the Legislative Budget Board is enforcing that decision.
So how did the Texas Racing Commission respond to being told to obey the law? “Screw you, we’re legalizing historical racing anyway.”
Personally, wearing my libertarian hat, I think more forms of gambling should be legal, regulated and taxed in Texas. However, at this point it’s become clear that the Texas Racing Commission has been captured by the very industry it was created to regulate. At this point it’s better for the LBB to let funding for the Texas Racing Commission lapse entirely. A short special session would be called creating a new agency to regulate horse racing and letting Governor Abbott choose commissioners who serve the interests of Texas citizens rather than the gambling lobby.
And if Texas race tracks close (either temporarily or permanently), that’s acceptable collateral damage for a marginal industry that captured its own regulatory agency and pushed it into promulgating illegal regulations not authorized by the legislature.
So focused has the Texas Racing Commission been on imposing historical racing, if I were Attorney General Ken Paxton, I’d take a serious look at investigating the possibility that current commissioners received payoffs from the gambling lobby to do so.
But you know who would probably profit the most from letting historical racing and slots machines appear at Texas race tracks? Texas speaker Joe Straus, who stands to rake in millions due to his and his family’s connections to gambling interests.
Edited to Add: Cahnman’s Musings notes that two of the commission members who voted for historical racing are holdovers that Gov. Abbott can replace at moment’s notice. Sounds like that should be the strategy going forward…