Big Problems: Future Seems Bleak For Racing In Texas

by | 02.26.2015 | 12:06pm
Arlington Downs held pari-mutuel horse racing in Texas until it was banned in 1937

I'm not the only one who let my imagination run wild in 1987 when the Texas legislature authorized a state-wide referendum to bring pari-mutuel racing back to the Lone Star state. After all, this was Texas, where you are supposed to think big.

Texas was the home of Arlington Downs racetrack for a glorious decade, opening in 1929 and then closing when the legislature outlawed pari-mutuel wagering.

This was Texas, where horses were such a big part of the history and culture and remain in the mainstream of daily life.

Six Texas cities are in the top 20 U.S. cities by population: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso.

Texas had a solid core of Thoroughbred owners and breeders, from the family that owns King Ranch to the Farishes of Lane's End to the Scharbauers of Alysheba fame.

There were fits and starts getting horse racing off the ground in Texas. The first pari-mutuel track, G. Rollie White Downs, awarded a Class 2 license, went out of business soon after opening in 1989. The state's first Class 1 track, little Trinity Meadows in Weatherford, near Forth Worth, was a dump and a laughingstock that opened in 1991 and managed to last several years. And there was lots of fighting over the biggest plum, the Class 1 license for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Sam Houston opened for business as the first real Class 1 racetrack in Houston in 1994. Retama Park in San Antonio and Lone Star Park in Dallas followed suit.

The news of these tracks becoming a reality buoyed the state's breeding industry. In 1995, Texas ranked fourth, behind Kentucky, Florida, and California when 4,427 mares were bred.

But Texans didn't embrace racing the way the consultants and journalists and pari-mutuel backers had hoped. A lottery that began in 1992 was a buzz kill for people who thought Texas horse racing couldn't miss. The gambling landscape around the country began to change. Texas didn't respond to the change.

As pari-mutuel betting dollars in most states drifted first to off-track wagering sites and then to advance deposit wagering, Texans were forced to make bets at licensed racetracks only. Politicians and the religious right fought any effort to expand wagering to off-track betting facilities (even though they approved thousands of betting locations for the state lottery).

Then came the shutdown of advance deposit wagering by the Texas Racing Commission, which said ADW betting was a violation of the Texas Racing Act.

Desperate to increase revenues, tracks and horsemen pushed for the approval of historical racing at Texas tracks – the kind of Instant Racing machines that saved Oaklawn Park in Arkansas – but that was shot down by a state judge who said the Texas Racing Commission overstepped its bounds by approving it.

And now the state legislature, with encouragement from out-of-state casino money, is piling on. First came news that a casino lobbying firm helped state lawmakers draft a letter critical of the racing commission for its approval of historical racing.

Now, those same lawmakers are threatening to strip all funding from the Texas Racing Commission as a form of punishment for the commission's decision to try and save horse racing through the approval of historical racing.

Through all of this, the once-promising Texas Thoroughbred industry is in tatters. The number of mares bred each year has fallen steadily. At last count only 814 were bred in Texas last year – a far cry from the 4,427 in 1995. Texas has slipped from fourth to eighth in breeding activity, passed by Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma and New Mexico (all of which have state breeding programs supported by alternative gambling revenue).

No one can possibly be thinking big these days. It's a question of whether or not horse racing in the Lone Star state can survive. Based on the politics of the moment, its future is not a very good bet.

  • David

    What this article indicates for me is that state laws regarding gambling are a greater predictor of racing’s business success than local horse culture. It also highlights that state lotteries are a really regressive form of gambling and entertainment that should be reconsidered but won’t because states have grown dependent on lottery revenue.

    • jazzmania

      This IS Texas you’re talking about ? The Baptists are so afraid of being judged by the Lutherans they drive to Louisiana to indulge in their taste of forbidden fruits.

      • Michael Cusortelli

        Texans also drive to New Mexico and Oklahoma. Don’t forget NM and Oklahoma.

      • AngelaInAbilene

        Drive west, north or east from Texas and walk in the first casino you come to. It’s full of Bible Thumpers of all varieties from Texas. They’re the biggest bunch of “christian” hypocrites you’ll likely ever see outside a TEA party gathering.

        • jazzmania

          Heck Angela, We marry our 15 year old cousins in Louisiana just to keep them safe from Texans.

          • AngelaInAbilene

            Whatever it takes…

  • Anton Chigurh

    It’s not marketed properly. If they could get Obama to condemn it people would be lined up out the door!

  • Guest

    Texas, where freedom means bringing your gun to church but definitely not placing a $2 exacta on the fifth from the comfort of your own home. Yeehaw, baby jebus, amen!

  • I can’t remember when I last looked at a results page for a race in Texas. Probably when they held a Breeders’ Cup there. I can’t recall the year, but I do remember that they ran out of beer, which helped make the whole thing the perfect target of self-protective amnesia for the average racing fan. I figure at this rate, they’re so far behind the curve, they’re still trying to catch up to the year when London decided to stop flushing waste into the Thames. Yee-haa.

  • 4Bellwether666

    Same state that gave us Mr.”Mission Accomplished”/”Weapons of Mass Destruction” and “We Never Executed A Innocent Human Being”…So what would you expect out of that bunch clowns???…ty…

    • secondlife

      Who exactly did George W Bush execute that was actually innocent?

      • jazzmania

        he was talking about Cameron Todd Willingham

      • AngelaInAbilene

        He wasn’t referring to Shrub, he was talking about Guvnor Goodhair and the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. Who, post execution, we now know was indeed innocent.

        • secondlife

          I was not aware of that. Original poster lumped them all together so I thought he meant Dubya.

          • AngelaInAbilene

            That’s why it’s always best to know the subject matter before opening mouth and inserting foot. For the record, lil’ Bush is directly responsible the deaths of thousands of innocent people. We call them casualties of war.

          • secondlife

            Well too bad Bush is not around now to deal with ISIS. At least he had some cajones. The 3,000 people killed on 9-11 just for showing up at work were also casualties of war.

          • AngelaInAbilene

            ISIS would lop Shrub’s lil’ empty head off. Yeah, it’s too bad he ain’t still around…

      • arazi

        Texas is a very corrupt state. Remember Kennedy was killed in Texas also..

    • Cindy

      Don’t make this political. get a life

      • Ron S


      • Chris Lowe

        This whole mess in Texas IS political.Out of state casino interests do not want competition from instant racing machines in the Lone Star state and will bribe….err lobby the pols to get what they want.

        • Laura Woodside


      • AngelaInAbilene

        Get some FACTS. This is ENTIRELY political.

        • Cindy

          to come after George Bush like this cat did was, well, bush-league Better term would be personal

          • 4Bellwether666

            Bush was and is disgrace to the State of Texas and the United States of America…Period…

          • AngelaInAbilene

            Most Texans are in fact, wonderful people. The intelligent ones even agree that Shrub W. is a disgrace and an embarrassment. Which begs the question, why do we repeatedly elect idiots?

          • McGov

            Hard to imagine anyone could find an argument to defend Bush Jr…..the guy is the most embarrassing thing to happen to the US….possibly EVER. Not even going down the road of HOW IS IT POSSIBLE HE GOT TWO TERMS. Not even ;)

          • AngelaInAbilene

            A shrub has more intelligence than Shrub W. does!

      • 4Bellwether666

        Ha Ha Ha…That is one stupid statement!!!…

      • 4Bellwether666

        ps…The up vote here tells us why they keep putting these clowns back in office…

    • Byerley Turk

      And your point is??
      Go find some progressive forum for your pablum.

      • 4Bellwether666

        Regular folks in Texas are A OK but a bunch of DA’s running the show there for a long time!!!…Got That???…

      • rachel

        Yes! Thank-you.
        I come here to this site 15 minutes a day for racing news, horse stuff and to play.

        • AngelaInAbilene

          And I’ve been in the racing industry me entire life… the majority being in Texas. This is racing news.

    • AngelaInAbilene

      Bush, Perry, Cruz, DeLay and whole host of idiots we Texans have unleashed on the world.

      • Gaye Goodwin


      • bobjonestwo

        Cruz is a bad guy, nothing the sheeple hate more than someone telling them the truth. By the way, Delay was railroaded and has since been exonerated.

        • AngelaInAbilene

          If you *think* Ted Cruz is telling anyone the truth about anything, you’re the sheeple, not me. Bah, bah. Exonerated is a bit of stretch. DeLay was worse than the cockroaches he exterminated. I suppose you also *think* Perry would be a great POTUS.

          • bobjonestwo

            Not a big fan of Perry or Delay for that matter, but he was railroaded. Cruz is as honest as any politician I have seen for awhile, except for Ron Paul. Bah, bah Angela.

          • Chris Lowe

            Your moniker here is very revealing.

    • gls

      OMG there is a state dumber then New Jersey when it comes to racing!!!

      • 4Bellwether666

        Please don’t leave out my own state of Virginia…ps…The clowns we have in Richmond FINALLY passed a bill to help ‘The Game’ get back on track as you can read here @ the PR…Worth the read…ty…

      • AngelaInAbilene

        Everything’s bigger in Texas… even dumb.

    • Gaye Goodwin

      Dubya was born in Connecticut! He couldn’t even be honest about being a “Texan”.

      • AngelaInAbilene

        Honesty has never been in his repertoire.

    • El Dano

      Sounds like a Pelosi sucking California Democrat, must have gotten help from Nevada with the big words. Thanks for pulling your head out for that.

  • jazzmania

    When’s the next R. Chapa update ?

    • Gaye Goodwin

      Write to the DA to subpoena Blasi!

  • secondlife

    I thought Texas was supposed to be the “free” state. They are acting like a bunch of little nazis.

    • 4Bellwether666

      Not acting like little nazis they are and have been for a while but then Virginia isn’t any better…You why Virginia is called a Commonwealth State???…Because only the common have the wealth!!!…

  • Tom Stift

    I heard the Lottery offered Horsemen 1/2 of 1% to support the lottery passing. They turned it down thinking it wouldn’t pass…would have been best racing in country if true..

  • ExactaGirl

    It’s depressing for race fans saddled with living in the Lone Star State. I can remember spending hours a day researching Paulick Report, DRF and Equibase, and now, I spend minutes, if that. Now that I can’t bet at home (and Brisnet did away with the Race of the Day contest), I rarely handicap anymore.

  • Jack Frazier

    Racing in Texas and Oklahoma was always popular with those who trained a few horses off their ranches. Everyone had a runner in their back yard. The AQHA used to sanction “recognized non-para mutual races in those states, even Kansas and Nebraska had a few. As a kid, it was pure heaven to go to these races where families and friends rooted for their favorite. Horsemen put up their own money nominating to futurities and derby’s and spent countless hours looking forward to the trials, and hopefully, getting into the finals. It was a family sport and it was fun. The “my horse can outrun your horse” philosophy pervaded the day and it was something that will never be again. It was true horse racing. There was not a lot of money but there were lots of friendships, some fights and a lot of good racing. Everyone knew who had the best horses and eventually these horses wound up in California with D. Wayne Lukas or Blane Schwanavelt. Dash For Cash, Miss Thermolark and Gold Coast Express, trained by Bob Baffert, were three. Others included Vandy’s Flash and Vanetta Dee. Para mutual racing killed it. When money replaces sport it changes it. Just look at the greed in football, baseball and the do anything to win philosophy prevalent in racing today. It is a sad time but as Thomas Wolf once said, “you can never go home.”

    • Bill O’Gorman

      What are those blue remembered hills, what spires, what farms are those ….. the happy highways where I went and cannot come again.

    • AngelaInAbilene

      Oh for the good old days, how well I remember them. Bandera, Ross Downs, Val Verde, Manor… The walk down memory lane is bittersweet and I can’t take too much of that this cold snowy morning.

      When I came to Texas from both “Horse Capitals of the World” as a young teen, I couldn’t believe how big horse racing was here. Everybody as you say, “had a runner in their backyard.” For non-para mutual racing, it was huge. And yes, a family sport, very much like the match races I see today popping up everywhere.

      Then came the talk of going para mutual. I was hopeful but wasn’t holding my breath. After graduating HS, I went back to the northern “Horse Capital of the World,” making the circuit spring – fall and Florida in the winter. But I always kept an ear on how para mutual was coming along in Texas. When it was finally passed, I came back expecting bigger and better racing. After the way non-para mutual was, how could para mutual not be?

      Ray, Trinity Meadows certainly wasn’t a Class 1 facility but it wasn’t any bigger dump than Beulah, Mountaineer or Fairmount back in the day. After LoneStar was built and Trinity Meadows/Squaw Creek closed, we tried many times to buy it and turn it into a training center. I had a lot of good times at Trinity Meadows and met my husband in the Receiving Barn.

      For a while, it was. better. More farms, more races, more money. But it didn’t last long. 25 years later, I agree with you, racing in Texas was indeed better when it was non-para mutual. Far enough down Memory Lane… now, on this cold snowy morning, I have to go tend horses that will not be running in Texas.

      • ryan c

        you and ‘Jack’ are the same person, right? No way do two supposed lifelong racing fans come up with a term like “para mutual”.

        Then again, you could be on to something. Para mutual racing has to be better than what we have today.

  • Minter Cogar

    Thank you Ray I go to Sam Houston Race track and do not know how they are keeping the doors open. Seem every time i turn around racing is getting harder and harder to participate in. if I didn’t have a great job I would leave. I have U verse with ATT and TVG and them are at odds so I was stuck with HRTV TVG does not show Oaklawn but when they want to. now we have had this simulcast contract issue. Two steps forward and ten back. I wish the people that were involved In 1994 were still her but most have threw up there hand and left. I meet Governor Ann Richards In 1993 at Manor Downs east of Austin TX. and she loved racing. Its just not the same group. Delta Downs was facing bankruptcy and now look at them.
    I just thought a stat like Texas would be wide open.
    Love hearing you on At the races with Steve.

    • Laura Woodside

      Rays on ATR?!! Since when? Ray! You didn’t tell me you were going to be on his show! lol

    • AngelaInAbilene

      Governor Ann was the best post-Alamo thing that ever happened to Texas. She was indeed a rare and refreshing breed in the Loon Start State.

  • yeigh racing

    That’s a problem when out of state casinos control your state law makers. The fact that they would let them influence their decisions shows you what they are all about. What a shame but texas racing is in real trouble

  • perks

    The ones in charge have gotten used to the millions of dollars (donations) given to them from out of state casinos to keep gambling out of texas. long as that keeps coming in year after year this is how it will be. We all know the players & they dont care that they are losing thousands of jobs, tax dollars etc. when breeders & owners left the state for greener pastures.I am one of them and was hoping, praying to move back when and if things changed. Now Im just watching it die..

  • Sandy

    Rather new to all this….what is “historical” racing please?

    • 4Bellwether666

      Welcome aboard Ms. Sandy!!!…Historical racing machines are look a like slot machines where the gambler wagers on old already been run Horse races…Does that make sense???…Never laid eyes on one and don’t care if I ever do…ty…

      • Sandy

        Ahhh-ha! Got it. Thought it was important to know….not. Thanks!

  • Mike Walker

    Texas Racing was growing steadily until internet gambling became so easy, handle in Texas had grown to over 1 billion dollars in the year 2000 but was in a steady decline since that time down to 345 million last year.
    The industry only had their eye on slots and did not fight to get the AWD problem fixed, the AWD problem Texas was you could bet on out of state races but not on Texas races and in Texas the drive to the closest track might be 400 miles so even if you wanted to support Texas racing it was not always practical.

  • Tom Trosin

    For the lady who took exception the the George Bush comment I will make it less personal.
    What do you expect from the state that brought you; compromised health care for women, praying for rain rather than reducing coal plant emissions, or instituting rationing, continually tries to sue Oklahoma for water, can’t make up its mind when it comes to road construction, doesn’t have road salt for when it freezes, proposed to take Thomas Jefferson out of their history books because he engaged with his slaves, lies about how Davy Crockett died and tried to have the actual account removed from their historical record, allows lard asses to carry weapons in to businesses unless those businesses have a “no gun” sticker on the door, has a turnpike system with no way to collect from people from outside the state (Oklahoma excluded), shall I continue?

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