AUSTIN, Texas — Texas voters could decide in November whether casino gaming could prop up the state’s flagging horseracing industry, according to a resolution filed in the House by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.
House Joint Resolution 97, or HJR 97, would pair potential gaming casino locations with existing or defunct parimutuel betting tracks for horses and greyhounds. That number might sound familiar; it’s the same number as a failed resolution filed in 2021 to legalize sports wagering in the state.
Putting such a proposition to a vote in November makes sense, Geren said. If HJR 97 is passed, it would direct the state to amend its constitution on the issue of gaming.
“Polling over the last year makes it clear that more than 85% of Texans want the right to vote on this issue, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Geren said in his announcement. “It is high time that the legislature listens to the voters and allow them to decide this issue. I, for one, am not in the business of denying the voters of Texas their voice when their preference is so clear.”
Horseracing, already hobbled in Texas, is in steep decline after the Texas Racing Commission declined to enforce the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, new federal regulations that come with hefty six-figure fees.
That’s left the remaining Texas horse tracks – the biggest being Sam Houston Race Park in Houston – with no simulcast betting. On-track betting at Sam Houston is down 90%, year over year, which is not sustainable as a business model, according to the trade publication Paulick Report.
The resolution, if passed, would send the issue to the voters. A yet-to-be-filed companion bill will outline the specifics of how the hybrid horseracing-casino gaming model would operate. According to Geren’s announcement, a Texas Gaming Commission would be created to regulate the new betting.
Applicants, who must be existing casino operators, would have to compete to win a license and agree to invest between $250 million and $2 billion, depending on the location. No state or local tax incentives would be used. And the fact it would be located at a racetrack could mean immediate development.
Other efforts to boost racetrack betting in recent years, such as instant betting, have failed to gain lawmaker support. Instant betting allows wagers on historical races. A judge struck down that attempt, and rules were repealed in 2016.
The hybrid casino gaming-horsetrack racing is only one of a number of models being proposed this session. Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has filed a more narrow casino proposal to encourage economic diversification. And former Gov. Rick Perry has joined the Sports Betting Alliance in an effort to legalize online sports betting.