Regulatory Spat Could End Horse Racing in Texas

Written By J.R. Duren on May 27, 2022
Spat between state and federal regulators may end live and simulcast parimutuel betting

Everything is bigger in Texas. And that includes jurisdiction disputes.

A spat between state and federal regulators may end live and simulcast parimutuel betting as soon as July 1.

Letters published by the Texas Racing Commission (state oversight) reveal that it and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (federal oversight) are locked in a battle that may end with the death of horse racing in Texas.

If horse racing in Texas shuts down, the economic and labor impacts would be staggering.

TRC threatens shutdown if HISA takes over

The heart of the dispute between the Texas Racing Commission (TRC) and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) comes down to July 1. On that date, HISA will assume oversight of Texas horse racing.

The TRC is having none of it. They don’t want federal-level interference of any kind. Their beef is multi-faceted.

  • TRC has overseen racing for more than a century.
  • HISA would interfere with betting and purses.
  • Implementing HISA standards would cost the state money, an unspecified amount.
  • TRC would have to open its financial books to HISA.

TRC boss Amy Cook sent a letter to HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus saying she would have none of it. She said HISA needs to provide TRC with specific dates on which it wants to exercise oversight. Cook cited authority under the Texas Racing Act.

“No pari-mutuel wagering is permitted for live or simulcast export wagering for races our Commission does not supervise. Accordingly, there will be no such pari-mutuel wagering or simulcast wagering in Texas on those dates which the Authority asserts jurisdiction.”

HISA’s response was no-nonsense. In a letter obtained by racing journalist Ray Paulick, Lazarus said the TRC has balked at communicating with HISA. In general, the TRC seems unwilling to give up regulatory oversight, according to Paulick.

While the battle between the bosses is interesting, bigger questions loom. Namely, what will happen to the state’s horse racing industry?

Millions of dollars, thousands of jobs at stake

The horse racing industry in Texas is among the biggest in the nation. Texas has more horses than any other state. More than 700,000 horses reside in the Lone Star State, according to a 2017 study from the American Horse Council Foundation.

In 2019, 1.4 million bettors generated $285 million in parimutuel bets at the state’s horse tracks and now-defunct greyhound tracks. It’s hard to believe that a spat between state and federal regulators may end live and simulcast parimutuel betting with so much money at stake.

There are three horse racing tracks in the state:

  • Sam Houston Race Park, in Houston
  • Lone Star Park, in Grand Prairie
  • Retama Park, in Selma

Exactly how big of an impact horse racing has on the state is hard to gauge, as data is difficult to find. However, a 2015 report from Texas A&M laid out the impact.

  • $733 billion in business revenue
  • Economic output of $1.4 billion
  • Added $945 million to the state’s gross domestic product
  • Supported $689 million in labor
  • Provided 11,450 jobs

Those numbers are most likely smaller now because the racing industry has declined in Texas over the past seven years. There’s no doubt, however, that a shutdown of the state’s racing industry could lead to hundreds of millions in lost economic output and thousands of jobs.

Where to bet if Texas horse racing shuts down

There’s no telling what will happen as the July 1 deadline looms. The TRC could be bluffing. But if they’re not, Texans will have to go elsewhere to wager. The following neighbor states allow in-person and online horse betting:

  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • Oklahoma
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey gambling beats for Catena Media. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun. Duren is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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