There is trouble brewing in Texas.
It’s about the last place you’d expect difficulties in the horse racing business, but there you go. It’s true.
The Texas Horse Racing Commission voted to allow Retama Park in Selma, Texas, to reduce its fall thoroughbred schedule from 30 days to 16, to be staged on weekends in September and October.
Keeping the full meet, Retama CEO Bryan Brown said, would result in “unacceptably” low purse levels because of reduced live and simulcast betting at the track.
Also this past week, Howard Phillips, owner of Manor Downs outside Austin, told the commission he would not apply for racing dates in 2011 and plans to shut down simulcast operations July 25.
That is not good news.
Commission members acknowledged the fact that they are overseeing an industry in crisis mode.
“It seems to me from a business standpoint that these operators are facing a dire situation,” said commission member Tom Clowe of Waco. ”
We are bound to understand these problems and do what we can to allow racing to continue … while we delve into solutions.”
Officials at the three major Texas tracks – Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Sam Houston Race Park in northwest Houston and Retama – have disclosed plans to consolidate their 2011 thoroughbred race dates for one year at Lone Star in an effort to produce a premier meet that would attract attention from simulcast bettors around the country.
I hope they survive.
Commissioners said they will discuss those plans with the tracks and with horsemen over the next two months before setting race dates in September. Track officials, meanwhile, plan to meet with Texas legislators to discuss proposed legislation that would provide expanded gaming options for Texas tracks, which track owners claim would put the state’s industry on level ground with Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
“We lose money on live racing,” said track owners. Losses are less on simulcast-only days, he said.
“The amount of money it costs us to stay open is just overwhelming us,” another owner said. “The industry, we all know it’s in dire straits.” I’m hoping something is done. I promise you I’ll keep an eye on what the commission does.
New York State had similar problems a few months ago, remember?