AUSTIN (AP) — Racetrack owners are seeking the approval of state regulators to expand gambling to include racing terminals that look similar to slot machines.
The owners see the machines, known as historical racing terminals, as an important revenue stream that could boost a struggling industry. But slot machines are illegal at Texas tracks and critics of the effort say the terminals are nothing more than horse-themed slots.
Proponents counter that state law does not specify that pari-mutuel betting be only for live horse races, and they want to include racing terminals that display video feeds of previous horse races held at tracks at dozens of locations in the U.S. The feeds are stripped of any identifying information that could aid the bettor.
Sam Houston Race Park in Houston and other tracks are anticipating they can make the change without approval by lawmakers in Austin. That means they would need the approval of the Texas Racing Commission, which will consider the matter Tuesday. Commission spokesman Robert Elrod said no decision will be made Tuesday and that the earliest commission members could decide is August.
But advocacy groups such as Stop Predatory Gambling Texas have sent a letter to the commission saying it has no jurisdiction in the matter and cannot consider the changes.
Historical racing terminals don’t fit into the definition of pari-mutuel betting because bettors aren’t wagering on the same races, odds don’t fluctuate as bets are made and the terminals have some of the same components as slot machines, they contend.
The groups want the matter settled by state lawmakers, many of whom have opposed an expansion of gambling.
Andrea Young, president of Sam Houston Race Park, argues the groups are off-base. Historical racing terminals are nothing like slots and are not games of skill, she said.
“We are not interested in doing something that has not been authorized in the state. We’re interested in doing something that we believe the commission has the authority to do,” she said. “This is a pari-mutuel wager in connection with a horse race.”
The terminals would benefit a storied sport in Texas that is now barely holding on.
Texas races are undesirable for many horse owners and trainers since the purses are much lower than in neighboring states, such as Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, where tracks have been able to supplement purses with slot machines and other gambling operations.
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