A Texan’s plea to save horse racing in her home state

Originally published on HorseRacingNation.com
By Mary Cage

This is an actual letter (excluding a bit of personal information) I recently sent to various members of the Texas legislature regarding the current state of the Texas horse racing industry.

My name is Mary Cage. I am a senior at the University of North Texas in Denton, where I am enrolled in the nationally accredited Mayborn School of Journalism while concentrating in advertising and minoring in marketing. But my true passion lies in horse racing.

Do you know how sad it has been to grow up in Texas with a passion for horse racing? To be that horse-crazy little girl with dreams as big as the Texas sky, only to have to rein in those dreams because my very own home state has prevented me from pursuing those dreams as fervently as I should? Can you imagine your own children discovering their passion at age eight, only to realize as they grow older that where they live will put limitations on that passion and their dreams?

Well, that’s how I feel.

I was born in Texas and I have never lived in another state until this past summer, when I had in an internship in Kentucky. I lived outside of Texas for the first time in my life, because Kentucky held the career opportunities in horse racing that my home state did not. In doing so, I faced the disbelief of friends and family that I could possibly leave this great state.

Yes, Texas is a great state. Yes, I do have the immense state pride that is ingrained into a native Texan. But the legislators have chipped away at that pride as they have held back my beloved industry from blossoming like it should, and as it would have the ability to do if not restrained. And in doing so, my vision of how “great” Texas is, has begun to fade.

Do you know how heartbreaking that is? To fall out of love with your home state, where your family, your close friends, and your significant other live? Knowing that, if you truly want to pursue the highest possible aspirations in your industry, you will likely have to leave your home state and these people behind? All because the legislators of your state have forced you into this situation.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one in this position. Over the past few years, I have watched more and more horsemen leave the state of Texas to pursue racing and breeding in other states – states that actually make it possible to have success, let alone make a living, in the horse racing industry. I have watched one of the best breeding farms in the Lone Star State – Lane’s End Texas – sell off its horses and close its doors. I have watched as the track closest to where I live – Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie – has lost a variety of its biggest races, cut back its purses, and therefore lost an immense amount of quality in the horses and horsemen it attracts. In other words, my young eyes have watched the industry for which I have a passion die in my home state.

But I’m a Texan. I don’t give up. And I won’t give up. Since I was 18, I have served as a social media assistant for the Texas Thoroughbred Association, the official breed registry for Texas-bred Thoroughbreds. This has been a huge opportunity for me, and not only in terms of my resume. This has helped me have a voice for the horse racing industry in Texas. I have been on numerous conference calls with members of the TTA board, created many social media campaigns, and spent hours researching the struggles Texas racing faces. Promoting and improving the Texas horse racing industry is not just my job; it is my passion. And it is something I will relentlessly do until fairness is finally achieved.

It doesn’t stop there. I have been a spokesperson for Texas racing on a national level, as well. When I was 16, I became a contributor for HorseRacingNation.com. There, I had a platform to allow my voice to be heard on a larger stage. I vividly remember a day during my early college career when I stayed up late, refreshing my social media feed with horror as all Texas racing and simulcast operations were shut down. There I was, in my dorm, my whole life seemingly ahead of me – when suddenly it seemed like my entire future had been cut off. So I took to the keyboard and wrote an article about the downfall of Texas racing, the fight it had been putting up in order to survive and support our horsemen, and the reason why this had all happened – our legislature.

I understood that the Texas Racing Commission was shut down briefly because legislators viewed the TRC as a “rogue” agency that overstepped its boundaries. However, punishing the commission put livelihoods on the line. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Texas racing industry provides 36,000 jobs and contributes $5.5 billion to the state’s economy. So not only is the Texas legislature holding back an entire industry, but in doing so, it is threatening to withhold such jobs and influx to its own economy.

Historical racing, the issue that caused the brief 2015 shutdown of the TRC, would be a godsend to the Texas racing industry. Although historical racing machines resemble slot machines, they are merely an extension of pari-mutuel betting – for their sole purpose is for users to wager on previously-run races. The outcome is not determined randomly like a slot machine. Historical racing has led to immense increases in purses in states such as Arkansas and Kentucky. It would be a huge benefit to Texas. After all, this state is already losing billions of its own citizens’ money each year to neighboring states’ casinos.

In 2017, three racetracks in Texas – one horse track and two dog tracks – closed their doors forever. A shortfall in the TRC’s budget forced them to their death – a fate I fear the rest of the tracks in Texas will eventually face, as well.

Also in 2017, five bills that would actually advance the Texas racing industry were introduced. They all died. They were not voted down; they simply did not move forward. But the industry desperately needs what these bills proposed.

• SB 1971 would have created a potential $25 million increase in purses from the state’s general revenue fund. Increased purses would attract better horses to Texas racetracks, and make Texas racing more competitive. Putting more prize money on the line would help support horsemen’s jobs and make it easier for them to make a living. But instead, purses are plummeting and thus driving these jobs out of the state.

• SB 1972 would have shifted Accredited Texas-Bred funds from the TRC’s budget and created an escrow account for this money. This would benefit the Texas-bred program, which is critical to Texas breeders.

• SB 1973 would have used existing state tax revenue on simulcast wagers that presently goes to the Texas general revenue fund to help pay the costs of operating the TRC. Currently, all TRC operating costs are generated by the racing industry through track and occupational license fees.

• HB 3925 would have legalized account wagering on Texas racing and created procedures for the TRC to license and regulate operators of account wagering. Whenever I ask industry members – both in and outside of Texas – what could grow Texas racing, the answer is often advance deposit wagering. This would allow people to bet on Texas racing from the comfort of their own homes and thus generate more interest in playing Texas racing – something that is certainly needed.

• HB 3926 would have allowed purpose-driven pari-mutuel wagering at the 10 Texas facilities currently licensed to conduct live or simulcast racing. According to American Racehorse, “purpose-driven pari-mutuel wagering would provide funding for enhanced bulletproof vests and body armor for all peace officers in Texas, funding to increase death benefits for the spouses and families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, and donor-directed funding for 501(c)(3) charitable organizations operating in Texas. It would also increase purse money available for racing in Texas.” That sounds like it would have been a win-win situation to me.

Thank you to the legislators who filed and supported these bills. Please continue to join me in the fight to keep Texas racing alive. I will be doing my part, teaming up with other Texas horsemen to hopefully create programs to promote this industry – to support our horsemen and to restore faith in other young Texans like me who have a passion for this industry. Please do your part. My future depends on it. Horsemen’s futures depend on. The future of Texas depends on it.

Texas racing is full of potential. Given the right circumstances, Texas could be one of the top places in the country to raise and race Thoroughbreds. It has been decades upon decades, but the state has already produced two Kentucky Derby winners – including a Triple Crown winner. As recently as 2004, Lone Star Park hosted the Breeders’ Cup, which is dubbed the “world championships of horse racing.” When people think of Texas, horses are often one of the things they think of; they are a part of our culture. After all, Texas has more horses than any other state. In fact, my home county is known as horse country. The opportunities for the horse racing industry in Texas would be endless, if they were only given the chance to take flight.

So, Texas, stop messing with Texas.

Feel free to contact Texas legislators yourself, if you are so inclined:

The Honorable Greg Abbott
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

The Honorable Jane Nelson
1225 S. Main St., Suite 100
Grapevine, TX 76051

The Honorable Dan Patrick
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711

The Honorable Matt Krause
6624 North Riverside Drive, #330
Fort Worth, TX 76137

The Honorable Charles Perry
11003 Quaker Avenue, #101
Lubbock, TX 79424

The Honorable John Zerwas
22310 Grand Corner Drive, Suite 110
Katy, TX 77494

The Honorable John Kuempel
523 E. Donegan #102
Seguin, TX 78155

For Texas residents, find who represents you here: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx