Video Lottery Terminal Bill Introduced

On March 8, Representative Kino Flores filed House Bill 3326, which, if passed, would legalize video lottery terminals (VLTs) at horse and greyhound tracks throughout Texas. This bill is unanimously supported by all of the members of the industry’s coalition, Texans for Economic Development (TED). Representative Flores is also the chairman of the committee where all gambling bills have been referred to for the 80th legislative session. This is extremely significant – especially given the fact that he is a friend of the horse racing industry and wants to see all purses in this state be the best in the country.

Some horsemen may questions parts of the bill, and there are certain specific elements of the bill that representatives of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership would have liked to see handled a little differently, but it was important for the industry to unite behind one piece of legislation so that we would have a bill that gives us a chance to get the video lottery terminals that every state around us already has.

The version of the bill that was filed would give the state a 35 percent tax rate and set purses by contract between each racetrack, representatives of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership, and representatives from each of the affected breed registries. A considerable amount of work has already been done by the tracks and various horse groups to set the terms of those contracts now, even before legislation passes. If contracts cannot be reached, than any party can refer the matter to the Texas Racing Commission (TRC) for final determination. The legislation directs the Commission to set the purse amounts at nationally competitive levels, but in no event may the Commission allocate less than 6.5 percent to horse purses.

This legislation would allow VLTs at the existing five horse tracks and three greyhound tracks, in addition to facilities constructed for the Austin Jockey Club and Saddle Brook Park licenses, along with the three licenses pending before the Texas Racing Commission should that agency decide to issue them.

On the same day that our bill was filed, two senators held a press conference and filed legislation that calls for the creation of 12 stand-alone facilities with full blown casino games in addition to VLTs at the existing horse and greyhound racetracks. Senator John Corona and Senator Rodney Ellis stated that they wanted to see the state benefit from the revenue created by full casinos in more areas of the state and they did not want to limit the gaming to a few racetracks. While this type of effort has been opposed by Governor Perry, Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Craddick in the past, these events only help to raise the awareness of our issue with the members of the legislature and the people of Texas.

Another factor contributing to our legislative effort is the budget. State legislators began the current session with the forecast of a $14 billion budget surplus. Most of that money had already been allocated by the time this article was written. The majority of the money was used to pay for the property tax reduction and promised education spending. Now legislators are being advised that they could be faced with a budget shortfall if a federal court mandates that the state pay more money for child Medicare benefits. This revenue shortfall could provide the incentive necessary for lawmakers to change prior positions on gaming.

Texans for Economic Development has been working diligently to create a strong grassroots effort to help pass this legislation. The coordinator for this project is Jason Haynsworth, and he is responsible for identifying horsemen in each of the 150 legislative districts to serve as district chairs. He will immediately begin training those district chairs and equipping them with the tools necessary to mobilize our support network. We will need every horseman in this state to call and write their legislators in support of this legislation. If we are successful in executing this campaign, then we will be victorious at the end of the session.

As soon as we get information regarding a possible hearing date for our legislation, we will determine plans for a horsemen’s day at the capitol and other grassroots activities. Any horseman or supporter of this legislation should make sure that Jason has a valid e-mail address for you so that we may get information to everyone on a rapid basis.

We will be using the industry’s website, which is www.keeptexasrunning.com, to disseminate the most current information about our issue. Don’t forget you can also use the “Political Action Center” section of the site to find out who your legislator’s are and to contact them.

We will also keep our membership up to date on events at the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership website (www.texashorsemen.com). Please check these sites often for the latest news and information. The 140-day legislative session will end on Monday, May 28.

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