Sep 22, 2010 9:19 PM by Alison Haynes
HOUSTON (AP) - The companies behind a new joint venture that
will own several Texas racetracks are betting their partnership
will help convince lawmakers to pass gambling proposals that would
allow slot machines at such facilities.
Penn National Gaming Inc. and Sam Houston Race Park in Houston,
through its parent company Maxxam Inc., announced their partnership
Wednesday to own and operate the Houston racing facility, the
Valley Race Park in Harlingen and a planned racetrack in Laredo.
The new joint venture comes as the state's struggling racing
industry is readying efforts to convince lawmakers during next
year's legislative session to legalize slot machines at horse and
Over the past 10 years, the amount wagered at Texas tracks has
declined 50 percent and attendance has dropped 30 percent,
officials with the state's race tracks told a House caucus in June.
The panel is examining gambling issues before the 2011 legislative
Sam Houston Race Park's CEO, Shawn Hurwitz, told the Houston
Chronicle that his company was thankful to have Penn National
Gaming come on board.
"This industry is struggling, and so to have somebody with a
national footprint is a great thing for us," Hurwitz said. "They
have tremendous financial resources, which is a great thing from
the perspective of our current operations and from an effort to get
other gaming passed in the state of Texas, which ultimately is the
answer not only for racing but to help Texas in this tough
Peter Carlino, Penn National Gaming's CEO, said in a statement
Wednesday that his company has a strong track record of helping
bring gaming to race track facilities.
Penn National, based in Wyomissing, Pa., owns and operates 22
gambling and racing facilities with a focus on slot machines in 15
states and the Canadian province of Ontario. It also has a joint
interest in Pimlico, home of the Preakness Stakes.
"Given the state of the economy, we are eager to begin work
with state and local stakeholders on establishing legislation that
will quickly reinvigorate racing operations throughout Texas and
provide recurring tax revenue needed to fund local and statewide
projects," Carlino said.
But it could be a long shot. Proposals to establish Las
Vegas-style casinos and slot machines at the state's 13 race tracks
and casinos on three federally recognized American Indian
reservations have failed, most recently in the 2009 Texas
Bringing slot machines and other gambling options to the state's
race tracks would require passage of a constitutional amendment
that before going to voters would first require 100 votes in the
House and 21 in the Senate.
Gambling has support among some lawmakers as a way of making up
for a projected budget shortfall of up to $18 billion. Proponents
of slots at tracks say they could generate about $1 billion per
year for state government.
But others, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David
Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, oppose expanded gambling.
Opponents say gambling preys on the poor and doesn't help local
economies as much as other types of spending.