Legislative Session Comes to a Close

The 79th Texas Legislature came to a close on May 30. The hopes of the Texas racing industry were riding on legislation that would allow for a public referendum that could make video lottery terminals (VLTs) legal at Texas racetracks, and those hopes were dashed when the entire efforts of the united pari-mutuel industry were killed by the clock.

On Thursday, May 26, the last day on which the Senate could consider new items, industry champion Senator Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) offered an amendment to the Lottery Commission sunset bill that would have allowed a statewide referendum to legalize video lottery terminals at venues across the state. This Sunset bill, House Bill 1434, would have continued the operations of the Lottery Commission for another 12 years, increased the size of the panel from three to five members, and made a variety of other regulatory changes. As Sen. Armbrister said, “This is a small amendment that will bring in billions of dollars for the State of Texas.”

Unfortunately, Sen. Armbrister was interrupted almost immediately by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), who objected to further debate because it was past midnight. That was the deadline for the Senate to pass its final legislation, although Senate leaders had extended the deadline long past midnight by first insisting they were working on El Paso time – an hour earlier – and then by just ignoring the clock. Sen. Nelson’s objection prevailed, and the Senate gaveled the session to an end.

After a brief parliamentary huddle, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer, ruled that time had run out. He gaveled the session to a close at 2:14 a.m. The bill was the last item scheduled to be heard, and if Sen. Nelson’s objection had not been upheld, she was threatening to filibuster until the end of the legislative session anyway.

This was especially disappointing in light of the unprecedented public awareness campaign and the overwhelming grass roots efforts extended by the racing industry. All segments of the horse and greyhound racing interests came together and worked in harmony to pass something that could have put Texas racing on par, or in front of, every major racing jurisdiction in the country.

However, the racing industry was not the only casualty of the session. The Texas education system and Texas property owners also saw the session draw to a close without any reform for their issues. This has already led to early speculation that Governor Rick Perry might call a special session of the Texas Legislature to deal with the latter two issues as early as July. If that happens, it gives our industry another chance to put our initiative, and the $1 billion VLTs could yield annually to the state budget, back on the table for consideration.

“Texans are resilient,” commented Texas Horsemen’s Partnership Executive Director Tommy J. Azopardi. “We endured a drought in Texas racing until the legislature reinstated pari-mutuel wagering in the late 1980s, and we will continue to struggle with the surrounding states for our horsemen and their horses.”

Azopardi continued, “Our organization, its board members, and the horsemen in Texas will not give up this fight. We will continue our efforts at every opportunity.”

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