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Help needed for racing industry, Oklahoma governor says


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry says he will ``do what I can'' to help horse tracks in Oklahoma offer additional types of gaming.

``That's the No. 1 thing they are asking for,'' Henry said Thursday after a report showed attendance at Remington Park in Oklahoma City and Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw continued to decline last year.

Henry said the tracks need to be on ``a level playing field'' with American Indian tribes that compete with gaming.

Attendance at Remington Park dropped 7 percent in 2002, from 141,636 to 131,674, according to the operations report by state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan. The average daily handle _ the amount wagered at the track _ declined by 22 percent, from $310,000 in 2001 to $241,711 last year.

Attendance at Blue Ribbon Downs also dipped 7 percent, from 76,758 to 71,740. The average daily handle declined by just $405, to $64,319 in 2002.

Gordon Hare, executive director of the state Horse Racing Commission, said some factors that have contributed to the decline are out of the commission's control.

``There are a number of things that we are doing, that the tracks are doing to minimize losses,'' Hare said. ``Tracks have asked for fewer live racing days to cut down on overhead and expenses.''

He said tracks are getting competition from tribal gaming and from racetracks in nearby states that have additional gaming attractions.

``Our horsemen also opt to go to New Mexico or other tracks because of the larger purses,'' Hare said. ``There's not a whole lot more that the commission can do. Cutting race days doesn't solve the problem, it just consolidates overhead.''

McMahan's report showed Remington Park had 128 race days last year. It has 79 live race days scheduled this year, according to its Web site; Blue Ribbon Downs has 80 live race days scheduled.

The operators of Blue Ribbon Downs filed for bankruptcy protection in September. The city of Sallisaw has tried to foreclose on the track. Officials want to gain possession and use it as part of an exposition- or fairgrounds-type operation.
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