Season set to begin at Sam Houston Race Park

The season of thoroughbred and quarter horse racing is slated to open at the Sam Houston Race Park Jan. 18 with the Texas Champions Weekend. Races will be held every weekend with special events such as Dollar Day and the beloved wiener dog races held throughout the year.

The park's 20th annual live racing season kicks off with the 2013 thoroughbred meet with an average daily purse amount of more than $165,000—a record high for the park's 19 years of business. In total, the Texas Champions Weekend is expected to feature more than $400,000 in total purses. Purse distribution refers to the total payout amount to horse owners, or the percentage paid to the highest finishing participants.

Several events, such as the Houston ladies classic, a food truck promotion and free concerts, are making their debut during this year's season, said Kyle Brown, SHRP's senior director of marketing and media relations.

"Sunday races this year will start at 1 p.m. and will feature a special brunch menu served in the Winners Circle Restaurant with $2 Mimosas and Bloody Mary's," she said. "Friday 50 Cent Beer night is very popular with our younger crowds, and families love the Wiener Dog Races."

Other well-known events making a return this year include Dollar Days in February and April and the Camel and Ostrich Racing held in March.

Possible legislation

As the new season kicks off in Houston, lobbyists have begun talks about proposing legislation in Austin, which would allow expanded gambling laws in Texas to be put to a referendum.

"I have yet to see a bill that [gaming commissions] have been able to get support for," state Sen. Dan Patrick, R–Houston, said recently to the Cy–Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce. "One of the things that has held up the gaming issue is that you have too many diverse people who won't sit down at a table and come to an agreement."

Sam Houston Race Park has joined the Let Texans Decide initiative—a coalition of business leaders, horse owners, community organizations and local residents dedicated to the passing of legislation, putting the issue of expanded gambling on a ballot—and are currently looking for petition signatures to send to the capitol.

Gambling is illegal under Texas law, unless no one involved makes a profit other than as a mere player, according to Charles Humphrey, a lawyer specializing in gambling law and other business matters. As outlined by the statute, betting on sporting events, competitive outcomes or games involving cards, dice or balls is illegal, but "playing the horses" and games such as the Texas Lottery are protected.

"It is clear that people are going to gamble," Humphrey said. "Laws that ignore that 'right' are sure to be ignored and flaunted. That is not to say that anyone should be able to make money other than as a mere player. I would prefer to see the people be involved in the decision, but it is ultimately up to the legislators."

According to Let Texans Decide, an estimated $2.5 billion leaves Texas each year for gaming interests in other states with about $1 billion going to Oklahoma alone. This money has the potential of creating jobs and paying for schools, firefighters and other infrastructure in neighboring states, according to Let Texans Decide.

Recent studies by the organization have shown that the implementation of casinos and racetracks could add up to 75,000 jobs and about $8.5 billion in economic growth throughout the state, including $1 billion in estimated tax revenue.