May 04, 2004

Slots Interests Stuck $4.1 Million
In Texas Political Slots Since 2000

Perry, Sharp, Strayhorn and Dewhurst Ran the Top Slots Pots


Slot-machine interests doggedly fed $4.1 million in coin into the slots of Texas PACs and politicians in the four years preceding Governor Rick Perry’s pending proposal to legalize slots to fund public education.

The two groups to whom the governor would grant a monopoly on Texas slots dominated these contributions. Texas racetrack owners contributed almost $3.1 million since 2000, led by investors in San Antonio’s Retama Park.

Two Indian tribes, the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta, gave $698,350 more. (The Kickapoo tribe—which opposes slots that would compete with its casino—gave $96,000 in the same period.)


Feeding the Slots

Pro-Slots Interests Contributions
Tracks $3,099,257
Tribes $698,350
Horse & dog trades $251,075
Slot makers $71,100
TOTAL: $4,119,782


Top Recipients of Pro-Slots Money

Recipient Office Sought Amount
Rick Perry Governor $572,175
John Sharp Lt. Governor $358,505
Carole K. Strayhorn Comptroller $349,513
David Dewhurst Lt. Governor $246,925
Greg Abbott Attorney Gen'l $130,100
John Shields Senate $112,325
Tony Sanchez Governor $108,150
Republican Party of TX PAC $98,200
Susan Combs Agricult. Com. $90,075
Kirk P. Watson Attorney Gen'l $66,350
David H. Cain Senate $61,200
E. Jeffrey Wentworth Senate $57,875
Elizabeth A. Jones House $51,250
Tom Craddick Speaker $46,950
Juan Hinojosa Senate $44,174
Gonzalo Barrientos Senate $43,967
John Cornyn Attorney Gen'l $42,350
TX Democratic Party PAC $35,000
Judith Zaffirini Senate $31,050
Wholesale Beer Distrib. PAC $31,045
Kenneth Armbrister Senate $30,150
David E. Bernsen Land Com. $28,750
Kip Averitt Senate $28,450
TX Partnership PAC PAC $25,000
John Whitmire Senate $25,000
Rodney G. Ellis Senate $24,850
Ron Wilson House $24,700
Wallace Jefferson Supreme Ct. $22,475
Leticia Van De Putte Senate $22,500
Kyle Janek Senate $22,000


Racing animal interests contributed another $251,075, led by the Texas Quarter Horse Association. The top dog-group donor was the Texas Greyhound Association. Slot manufacturing interests gave $71,100, all of which came from Gordon Graves. Graves was chair and CEO of Austin’s Multimedia Games until 2003.


Slotted politicos

Governor Perry, who invoked slot legalization in calling the current special session, is the top recipient of slots money, collecting $572,175 since 2000. His GOP party took another $98,200.

Former and current Comptrollers John Sharp and Carole Keeton Strayhorn were the next-largest recipients, clearing well over $300,000 apiece. The comptroller is an ex-oficio member of the Texas Racing Commission, which regulates tracks.

Two other statewide officials with busy campaign slots are Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who defeated Sharp in 2002, and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Thanks to rich father-in-law B.J. “Red” McCombs, a Retama Park track investor, John Shields collected more slots-related money than any other legislative candidate. Senate slots-money recipient Jeff Wentworth narrowly defeated Shields in the 2002 Republican primary. San Antonio Rep. Elizabeth Ames Jones was the largest House recipient of slots money, surpassing even House Speaker Tom Craddick.


Follow the Racetrack Money

Track Owner Group Contributions
Retama Park $1,717,228
Gulf Greyhound $478,323
Corpus Greyhound $302,826
‡Maxxam, Inc. $290,623
†LRP Group (Laredo) $275,457
*Austin Jockey Club $17,750
Manor Downs $12,300
*Saddle Brook Park $4,200
Lone Star Park $550
TOTAL: $3,099,257
‡Owns Sam Houston and Valley race parks;
has applied to open a Laredo track.
† Has applied for a track license.
* Track licensed but not operating.



Track owners and donors

Investors own seven operating Texas tracks that stand to benefit from the governor’s slots proposal.1 The Texas Racing Commission also has licensed two tracks that have yet to open and is reviewing applications for two additional track licenses.

Retama Park investors account for $1.7 million in political contributions—far more than any other track. Retama’s top investor is San Antonio’s Joseph R. Straus family (13 percent). The late Joe Straus, Sr., began lobbying to legalize gambling in Texas in the 1930s, according to Sen. Wentworth’s 1995 Senate Resolution honoring the family.

Retama’s many other investors include Texas Lottery contractor GTECH (8 percent) and such major donors as auto dealer Red McCombs, developer George Hixon and Caterpillar machinery distributor and Spurs owner Peter Holt. Governor Perry appointed Holt to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2003.

While religious groups are leading the moral crusade against slots in Texas, Retama lists an unspecified “St. David’s Episcopal Church” among its investors.


Top Stakeholders In Texas Tracks
Stakeholder Location Track (% Owned)
[H=Horse; D=Dog]
E. Drew Alexander
*Saddle Brook ParkH(93%)
Austin Racing Partners
Houston area
*Austin Jockey ClubH(100%)
Paul W. Bryant, Jr.
Tuscaloosa, AL
Gulf GreyhoundD
La Marque
Carr Family
Manor DownsH (100%)
Hecht Family
Miami, FL
Corpus GreyhoundD (49%)
Straus Family
San Antonio
Retama ParkH (13%)
San Antonio
LaMantia Family
Laredo area
†LRP Group, LTDH(24%)
Magna Entertainment
Lone Star ParkH (100%)
Grand Prairie
Maxxam, Inc.
Sam HoustonH (100%)
Maxxam, Inc.
Valley Race ParkD (100%)
Maxxam, Inc.
Laredo Race ParkH (100%)
* Track licensed but not operating.
† Has applied for a track license.


Running dogs of capitalism

Registered lobbyists are the top donors invested in two of the state’s three dog tracks. The lobby firm of Robert and Gordon Johnson—which contributed $388,101—controls 5 percent of Gulf Greyhound Park south of Houston. The Johnsons have reported lobby contracts for their own track and for Retama.

A corporation controlled by Paul Bryant, Jr.—son of legendary University of Alabama football coach “Bear” Bryant—owns 48 percent of Gulf Greyhound.

Lobbyist Nick Kralj, who contributed $216,766, is affiliated with trusts that own 5 percent of Corpus Christi Greyhound Race Track. Kralj reported large contracts with the pro-slots Tigua tribe in previous years. Trial-lawyer partners Joe Longley and Philip Maxwell also are big donors who collectively own about four percent of Corpus’ dog track.

Miami’s Hecht family owns 49 percent of Corpus Christi Greyhound. The Hechts and son-in-law Fred Havenick got their 15 minutes of fame in the late 1990s, when their Wisconsin dog track was a big player in a campaign-money scandal involving Clinton Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Frank Erwin III, son of the late University of Texas System regent, owns another 17 percent of this dog track.


Maxing out

The 800-pound gorilla of Texas race tracks is Houston-based Maxxam, Inc., which contributed $290,623. Run by Charles Hurwitz, Maxxam owns 100 percent of the Sam Houston and Valley race parks. It also has an application pending to open a new horse track in Laredo. Texas law prohibits anyone who already owns 5 percent or more of two tracks from buying 5 percent or more of a third track. To comply, Maxxam’s application says it will sell an existing track if the new application is approved.

The LRP Group also has a pending application to put a horse track in the same Laredo market that Maxxam is targeting. LRP’s largest owner is the Rio Grande Valley’s LaMantia family (24 percent) through its Buena Suerte and Apuesta companies.2  The family has contributed $214,307 of its beer-distributor fortune to Texas PACs and politicians since 2000. LRP’s other top donors are the Paul Bryant clan (more than 14 percent) and Retama’s Joe Straus family (8 percent). Robert and Gordon Johnson own 4 percent of LRP.

Like Maxxam, the Straus family appears to be skating close to the state law that bars a single owner from controlling 5 percent of more than two tracks. The Straus clan controls 13 percent of Retama, 4 percent of Gulf Greyhound and 8 percent of LRP. Racing Commission sources say that the Texas ownership law does not specify if different family members constitute a single “owner;” this issue has not been tested.

Whenever two applicants apply to open tracks in the same market, their applications go before an administrative law judge who can approve both tracks. Since both pending applications involve investors in existing tracks, the Racing Commission is unlikely to deem either applicant unqualified.


Canadian mounties

Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie is fully owned by Canada’s Magna Entertainment Corp. (MEC). As foreigners, MEC’s top executives—like many of its investors—cannot contribute to Texas politicians.

Lobby Watch’s April 28, 2004 edition overlooked up to $250,000 that MEC is paying to five lobbyists at Austin’s Graydon Group. Lobbyists Galt Graydon, Jay Brown, Machree Garrett Gibson, Jay Propes and Shannon Lea Swan each reported MEC contracts worth up to $50,000.

MEC spent a fortune to buy the home of the prestigious Preakness horserace in 2002. When Maryland lawmakers killed a bill last month to legalize slots at Maryland tracks such as Pimlico, it spawned persistent rumors that MEC might move the Preakness to Lone Star Park if Texas legalizes slots.

With relatively few contributions to their name, the Frances Carr Tapp family owns 100 percent of Texas’ final operating track: Manor Downs outside Austin. Carr family members also appear to own 12 percent of Retama. Similarly, Texas’ two licensed but non-operating tracks, Austin Jockey Club and Saddle Brook Park, have yet to generate major contributions.

Austin Jockey’s three equal-share owners are: Retama CEO Bryan Brown, as well as Houston-area horsemen Joseph Archer and C. Berry Madden. Saddle Brook President E. Drew Alexander owns the vast majority of his track.


Top Donors With Texas Slots Interests

Donor Group or Family
Slots Interest
Tigua Tribe
El Paso
B.J. 'Red' McCombs
San Antono
Robert & Gordon Johnson
Gulf Greyhound
George C. Hixon
San Antonio
Peter Holt
San Antonio
Nicholas Kralj
Corpus Greyhound
Alan W. Dreeben
Joe V. LaMantia
LRP Group
TX Quarter Horse Assoc.
Horse trade
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe
$88,150 Tribe
TX Horsepower PAC
$78,600 Horse trade
Gordon T. Graves
$71,100 Slots makers
Charles E. Hurwitz
$67,200 Maxxam
Allen J. Becker
$62,100 Retama
TX Greyhound Assoc. PAC
$42,700 Dog trade
Greg LaMantia
$41,250 LRP Group
Steve LaMantia
$33,254 LRP Group
Charles W. Graham
$32,022 Gulf Greyhound
Longley & Maxwell LLP
$31,000 Corpus Greyhound
J.E. & Marilyn Helzer
$30,100 LRP Group
Meredith Mallory, Jr.
San Antonio
$28,575 Retama
Joan N. Kelleher
San Antonio
$25,850 Retama
John W. Lyons, Jr.
Texas City
$25,000 Gulf Greyhound
Joe R. Straus, , Jr.
San Antonio
$24,082 Retama
Gulf Greyhound Partners PAC
$22,850 Gulf Greyhound
Anthony LaMantia
$22,300 LRP Group
Ronald L. Toms
$20,000 Retama
Lukin T Gilliland, Jr.
San Antonio
$19,407 Retama
Scott Petty, Jr.
San Antonio
$18,750 Retama
Ann & Bob Coleman
San Antonio
$18,713 Retama
Artur Preston
$18,250 Retama
Ronald J. Herrmann
San Antonio
$16,000 Retama
Tommy J. Azopardi
$15,750 Horse trade
Corpus Greyhound Racing Assoc.
Corpus Christi
$15,500 Corpus Greyhound
Joseph F. Archer
$14,500 Austin Jockey Club
Ruskin C. Norman
San Antonio
$13,800 Retama
J. Kent Friedman
$12,223 Maxxam
Irving Greenblum
$11,250 Retama
Curtis C. Gunn
San Antonio
$10,500 Retama
Fred W. Heldenfels, IV
Corpus Christi
$10,500 Corpus Greyhound




1 The Gillespie Co. Fair operates a “Class-3” racetrack that could not have slots under the governor’s proposal.
2 Spanish terms for “Good Luck” and “Bet.”