NEWS: Texas Racing Commission touts massive rules re-write

On Wednesday, the Texas Racing Commission met to discuss its new Rules Committee changes, and unveil a 'roadmap' moving forward. Here is the news story as reported by turfwriter J.N. Campbell.
On Wednesday, the Texas Racing Commission met to discuss its new Rules Committee changes, and unveil a "roadmap" moving forward. Here is the news story as reported by turfwriter J.N. Campbell.

NEWS—The Texas Racing Commission (TXRC) convened their Rules Committee Meeting in Austin on Wednesday pertaining to what they consider as a “kick-off.” The intent was to tout the beginning of a process; namely, revising all-aspects of the Texas Rules of Racing with the broad participation of industry and stakeholders in the state. The TXRC expects it to be an 18-month course that will make them a leader among all entities. Dr. Constance McNabb, Vice-Chair, presided over the proceedings, and she began by directly addressing their intent to move forward with this rules revision whether the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) exists or not. “With or without HISA, Texas horse racing has a bright future … we have developed a road map to bring in broad stakeholder input, and have collaborative discussions on how Texas is getting racing right.”

The intent is to make a number of visits to not only racetracks, but a host of other locations over the coming months that rely on Texas racing for their livelihoods. Executive Director Amy Cook announced that the next “open forum” will take place in Fredericksburg, Texas on September 13th. Voicing concerns about all of the Texas Rules of Racing will be on the table, and will serve as the most-extensive examination of standards and practices since its creation in the mid-1980s. Dr. McNabb explained the implementation of a six-phase “roadmap” that would examine topics like licenses, health and safety, pari-mutuel wagering, and a number of other major topics that are either not covered in the rules, or are in need of clarification. “The goal is to write a whole new rulebook, in the end with extensive public input, we will propose a new, modern, Texas Rules of Racing to take effect for the 2024 Racing Season,” she explained.

The TXRC invited three speakers to make presentations, offering their unique perspectives, and making it known that they would be integral to the process moving forward. Marsha Roundtree, Executive Director of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership, began by stating that, “It is long overdue, and we are looking forward to being part of the process.” She was vocally harsh about how HISA’s rollout should serve as an example of what not to do. “The HISA rules appear to be written by people who have never operated a racetrack, cared for a race animal, or ridden a racehorse at breakneck speed down the stretch … the rules are hard to understand, harder to comply with, and are unnecessarily complicated.” Thus, buy-in would be essential to making this process streamlined, and effective for all that are involved.

Tracy Sheffield was the next speaker to take to the microphone, and as the President of the Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA), she echoed some of the statements made by Roundtree. Industry stakeholders participating in revising our Texas rules of racing makes much more sense from her perspective. “The priority for the TTA is that Thoroughbred racing continues unimpeded in the state of Texas … Thoroughbred racing and breeding has been on an upswing in recent years, as demonstrated by the economic success of our recent sales,” she told the TXRC. “How the Commission conducts its business in the future will determine a large part if the Thoroughbred industry in Texas will continue to grow.” She offered support with regard to the decision to not export the Lone Star Park signal outside of Texas after July 1 because, “It allowed all the participants to finish the Meet under the rules of racing that were in place when it began.” Sheffield called for a middle-course for 2023, since the export signal money was so significant. She also raised concerns about funding HISA, and that the impact on horsemen would put some barns out of business without some kind of state involvement.   

Last, but certainly not least, Dwight Berube, the General Manager of PM Texas, representing among others, Sam Houston Race Park (SHRP) and Penn Entertainment (which was recently re-branded from Penn National), offered a number of salient points about this massive undertaking. Berube, an industry professional with nearly 50 years of experience across a host of racing-related departments, said that, “Much has changed in our world, particularly with the advancements in technology, we need to examine what opportunities might exist with these new technologies.” With 30 years of state insight, Berube urged the TXRC to use the insight gained, and he explained how decisions like the Horse Industry Escrow Account has been a “savior to the industry, and enhanced-related rules are surely in order.” He carefully explained how that resource continues to serve as a lifeline, and is the only means by which Texas can play a role on the national scene. Berube also called for a revamped licensing program that stringently enforced the rules in order to maintain the integrity of the sport. “Certain rules that are current can be vague and ambiguous to the reader, and subject to interpretation,” Berube told the Commission, “I think it is important throughout this effort that we remove such ambiguities.”

The Chairman of the TXRC, Judge Robert C. Pate, was also present. He offered comments throughout the presentations, but HISA was never far from his mind. He told those present, “We have engaged with HISA … what they are trying to do in implementing that federal statute, simply doesn’t fit what we are required to do under the Texas Racing Act.” Besides citing the conflict in the HISA rules and the Texas Racing Act, he went on to say that, “My understanding is that the revenue loss to Lone Star for the cutting off of the export of the signal for the last 14 days of their Meet, when HISA became active and we had the export order go out, I think it cost them something in $1 million range.” Judge Pate explained, “I get it, it’s important to the tracks, undoubtedly … I didn’t write the HISA legislation, I didn’t write the Texas Racing Act, we are here to figure out how it all works. We are going to do what Texas law allows us to do.”

Judge Pate also mentioned that he believes the TXRC will push back the date for Thoroughbred tracks, like SHRP, to name their 2023 racing schedule (possibly the end of September), which will allow the pending court decisions to take their course. By this action, it would appear the TXRC feels strongly that HISA will be declared unconstitutional or legal action will force the Federal Trade Commission that oversees the Authority to make changes in its framework. “As you are aware, one District Judge in Louisiana said this rule-making is “crazy,” my paraphrase, by the FTC and so is this whole relationship … and it is.” Judge Pate said the lawsuit recently filed in Texas on July 29, that includes the owners of Lone Star Park, was “an excellent piece of legal work.” Dan Ross of Thoroughbred Daily News was the first to report on this story, and the court filing can be found in his article, here.

To amend the Texas Racing Act itself, conforming to HISA’s rules, the TXRC would need the approval of the Legislature in Austin, which does not meet until January 2023. In the meantime, for a rundown of the entire “roadmap,” and to find the link to submit your recommendations for rule revisions, you can visit the TXRC’s website. The next Commission Meeting will take place in a couple of weeks in Austin on Wednesday, August 24 at 10:30 a.m.