One of the biggest meets on the Texas horse racing calendar starts this week. Action returns to Sam Houston Race Park on Friday, Jan. 6.
The question is, how many people will be able to bet on it?
The dispute between the Texas Racing Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority rages on. As a result, fans outside the Lone Star State cannot bet on horse racing in Texas.
What happened in 2022?
In 2022, the TRC refused to recognize HISA’s authority after it went into place nationwide. A standoff ensued, and in July, races from Texas tracks ceased to be available to out-of-state bettors located in the United States. Players in other countries, such as Canada, were not affected by this, but that represents a relatively small portion of a business’s off-track handle.
Furthermore, any sort of off-track betting is illegal in the state of Texas. Therefore, almost all of Texas’s horse racing handle comes from bettors who attend the races in-person.
Why does this matter so much?
Tracks across the country get a percentage of each bet that’s placed on their races. This is called takeout, and it helps fund their day-to-day operations. This includes purse money for races run at those venues.
Handle didn’t just drop in July of 2022. It crashed. In a six-day period near the end of the Lone Star Park meet, money bet on Lone Star races dropped more than 87 percent from a similar 2021 stretch.
The local racing circuit recently concluded its meet at Remington Park. Located in Oklahoma, Remington was available to bettors across the country and was not subject to the TRC/HISA legal battle. Sam Houston will be the first meet to start since out-of-state wagering on Texas races was barred.
This begs a very important question. If this conflict doesn’t get resolved, and out-of-state players can’t bet on Texas horse racing for weeks or months at a time, how long can the industry sustain itself?
What to expect at Sam Houston this year
Those who are able to bet on Sam Houston have plenty of reasons to do so. The track has endeared itself to handicappers far and wide for player-friendly takeout rates on multi-race exotic wagers.
That 12% rate applies to daily doubles, Pick Three, Pick Four, Pick Five, Pick Six and Jackpot Hi-5 wagers. It’s considerably lower than rates at almost every other track nationwide.
This year’s Houston Racing Festival was initially cancelled last summer. However, it’s been revived and will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28. That card will feature five stakes races, including the Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic and the Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup.
Finally, rather than hold nighttime cards, Sam Houston will race on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons this season. The venue will also host special Monday cards on Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day.
“The new schedule and start times present an opportunity to engage with our loyal simulcast guests and attract new fans with daytime racing,” said Frank Hopf, Sam Houston’s assistant general manager, in an October press release. “Moving our stakes races and promotions to the afternoons will provide new opportunities for everyone.”
UPDATE: Handle results from the opening weekend at Sam Houston’s Racing Festival were predictably awful. Opening Day 2022 generated a record $3.3 million in betting handle. That number dropped by 96% in 2023 to $133,000.