And They're Off: A New Push for "Racinos" in Texas

Backers say casinos in horse tracks could save industry

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    To better compete with other states, supporters say Texas should legalize “racinos” -- a combined racetrack and casino.

    An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the tribe that operates Global Gaming, which recently bought Lone Star Park. Global Gaming Solutions LLC is a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, not the Choctaw Nation. NBC DFW regrets the error.

    Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie survived bankruptcy last year and will open its new season on Thursday, but the track now faces another challenge -- a struggling horse industry in Texas.

    "It's on the verge of becoming irrelevant if something doesn't happen soon,” said longtime horse-racing writer Gary West. "The horses, quite frankly, are leaving Texas. About half the horses and half the horsemen have left Texas in the last five years or so."

    They’re following the money to other states where the purses are much higher -- boosted by cash from casinos, West said.

    To better compete with other states, supporters say Texas should legalize “racinos” -- a combined racetrack and casino.

    Some state lawmakers, such as Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat from Fort Worth, say the idea would both save the horse industry and allow Texas to collect a share of the money.

    "Right now, Louisiana and Oklahoma are getting all the benefits,” Veasey said.  “We're watching millions and millions of dollars go out of the state that could be used to help Texas kids and be used for Texas services."

    It’s no secret that casinos, such as the Chickasaw Nation's WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, just across the Oklahoma-Texas border on Interstate 35, are booming.

    In the past, the idea of casinos in Texas has been blocked on moral and religious grounds.

    But now, a new player is entering the game.

    Global Gaming, a company controlled by the Chickasaw Nation, recently bought Lone Star Park after its owner, Magna Entertainment, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

    For the Chickasaws, the purchase is a way to hedge their bets against losing business if Texas does legalize casinos, observers say.

    But what are the chances?

    Veasey said he is doubtful.

    “I think it could possibly happen,” he said, noting other conservative states have allowed casino gambling.

    West, who writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, sounded more optimistic.

    “I think the chances in the next session will be better than ever before, simply because there are more compelling reasons than ever before,” he said. “And I would guess that those compelling reasons will minimize the opposition."

    Kym Koch, a spokeswoman for Global Gaming, would not say if the Chickasaws would actively lobby for casinos in Texas.

    “Gaming in Texas is not allowed at this point,  and we’ll address that when and if it arises,” she said in a written statement.

    She did say the tribe would support whatever horse owners want.

    “Global Gaming is committed to making Lone Star Park a success,” Koch said.