BEAUMONT, Texas — Jefferson County voters said yes to horse racing in 2019.
12News Investigators talked to local leaders and industry professionals to find out what it's going to take to bring it here.
There's millions of dollars on the line here for Jefferson County. Horse racing could potentially bring some big bucks, but there's still a lot that must be done before you can enjoy a day at the races.
The 'call to post' roars through Sam Houston Race Park in Houston multiple times a day. It tells jockies to get ready.
In Jefferson County, the voters are the ones that are sounding the call to post, saying they are ready for horse racing.
12News spoke to Joseph Deshotel, Texas State Representative for District 22. His district includes Beaumont.
"Look, the people have spoken," Deshotel said. "They support this."
In November 2019, 55 percent voted to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in Jefferson County. But, it's still not a done deal.
In fact, it's far from that.
"It's not as a binding referendum, but to kind of feel the pulse of the people," Deshotel said.
12News asked what Jefferson County's votes meant for horse racing.
"It gives us a little more leverage, a little more ammunition to our colleagues," Deshotel said.
Rep. Deshotel says he plans to put pressure on fellow representatives to bring horse racing to Jefferson County and maybe one day other forms of gambling.
"Eventually, Southeast Texas will see gambling. There is a movement for it," Deshotel said. "But these things take time, and they take many, many sessions."
Right now, there are four horse race tracks in Texas. One in Dallas, two in San Antonio and one in Houston.
Dwight Berube is the vice president and general manager of Sam Houston Race Park.
"When you hear that sound and feel that energy of those horses as they barrel down that stretch, and hear the fans scream," Berube said. "There's just nothing like it."
In 1987, Texans voted to legalized pari-mutuel betting. That paved the way for horse racing.
Sam Houston Race Park opened its doors in 1994. Berube is hopeful Jefferson County may get one of its own.
"That's huge, and we are incredibly excited," Berube said.
He says the political climate has been trending in favor of horse racing in Texas.
The Texas House passed a bill in May 2019 that allows for bigger payouts for the winner who picks the right horse.
"The purses in Texas have not been equal to the sizes of purses in all of our neighboring states," Berube said.
In Louisiana, horse race tracks are permitted to also have slot machines and other games. It's not just the gambler who walks away a winner.
The state benefits from gambling revenue. In 2018 the state collected $726 million from the gaming industry.
Rep. Deshotel says billions could be flowing right into Jefferson County.
"We anticipate about $4 billion in income. Four billion dollars in profits made and then 18% of that would go to taxes, and that would be dedicated to helping cut down the costs of windstorm insurance in the coastal counties," Deshotel said.
A 2019 report prepared for the State of Louisiana by Spectrum Gaming Group says three quarters of gamblers who visit Lake Charles come from the Houston and Beaumont area.
The report estimates Houston-Beaumont is worth $1.2 billion in gross gaming revenue. It says, "If Texas ever were to authorize gaming, the Lake Charles market would be in danger."
While this report says horse racing brings in the smallest amount of gambling revenue, Deshotel believes horse racing could pave the way for other kinds of gaming.
"When that day happens and we do get additional forms of gaming, it's going to take us to a whole new level," Deshotel said. "Then, watch out for Texas."
The Texas Racing Commission is the governing body of horse racing in Texas. The commission's next meeting is March 24.
A spokesperson told 12News nothing in relation to horse racing in Jefferson County is on the agenda so far.