THE BET’S OFF: DALLAS REPS SAY NO TO HORSE RACING

AUSTIN-The Texas House of Representatives has once again said, “Horsemen, pass by” to pari-mutuel wagering. The solid 96-52 vote against House Bill 440, which would have legalized betting on horse racing in Texas, means that hot-to-trot Dallasites will continue to play the ponies in Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana, but not here at home.

The House not only killed HB 440, but buried it deep by passing a motion to table it following the defeat. A two-thirds vote of the House (100 members) would be required to resurrect the bill during this session, and that seems highly unlikely.

The lopsided defeat of HB 440 shocked partisans on both sides of the issue, but there was little surprise about the way Dallas legislators voted. Back in 1983, when a horse racing bill passed the Senate and failed by just two votes in the House, only Republicans Pat Hill and Ray Keller joined Democrats Paul Ragsdale and Jesse Oliver to cast “aye” votes.

This time, Dallas legislators were even more hostile to pari-mutuel betting. Hill and Keller joined the opposition, leaving only Dallas’ three black Democrats-Ragsdale, Oliver and Hudson-in favor of the bill. But the votes of Oliver and Hudson were small consolation to Ragsdale, who chairs the House Black Caucus, since the state’s nine other black lawmakers broke ranks to vote against the bill. Some observers saw the black defections as a blow to the prestige of Ragsdale, who is rumored to be eyeing the state Senate seat of Dallas Democrat Oscar Mauzy.

The kiss of death for the bill may have been its provision requiring that minorities be offered 15 percent ownership in the new race tracks and receive 15 percent of construction and concession contracts. Free-enterprise conservatives loathed the provisions, while some minority lawmakers thought they did not go far enough. Fearing church opposition to gambling in the black community, some black representatives wanted to sweeten the pot by dedicating some pari-mutuel tax revenues to Aid for Familes with Dependent Children. But sponsors of the bill refused to add such provisions.

HB 440 died in a classic pin-cer movement, caught between disgruntled minorities and conservatives flexing the new muscle they gained when 14 new Republicans rode the Reagan tide to Austin last year. Rags-dale, caught in the middle, denounced the black lawmakers who voted against the bill: “The majority of the people in this country have said ’no’ to a bunch of excessive demands from minorities.”

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