At Crowded Meeting, Fair Board Votes To End Live Horse Racing At Expo Square

Thursday, December 6th 2012, 10:49 am
By: Emory Bryan

More than 100 horsemen crowded into a meeting of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, commonly called the fair board, Thursday morning.

The fair board voted, again, on a measure that effectively ends live horse racing at the fairgrounds.

The decision has implications for the state's horse racing interests beyond whether they'll have a place to run.

The state has a deal with Indians tribes - they can have Vegas style gambling in their casinos, and in exchange the horsemen get about $6 million a year in support from the tribes.

The deal assumes there's live racing at Fair Meadows, but with that over, the Creek Nation, at least, believe they don't have to pay.

The horsemen say they do.

12/5/2012 Related Story: Horsemen Groups To Confront Tulsa County Fair Board Over Fair Meadows Closing

More than 100 people attended the Tulsa County fair board meeting, most of them horsemen, who didn't expect anything to change because they were there.

The fair board had already voted to end live racing, but a minor change to the deal required another vote, so the horsemen got a chance to speak.

"Just my one little horse racing here—15 people are affected by me not running my horse here, the feed store, the ferriers," said horse owner Kenda Woodburn.

They talked about the economic impact of the decision. Their lawyer talked about whether or not it was legal and well thought out.

"We have not received the correspondence we've asked for and we assume there was some negotiation to try and get a better deal," said attorney Mark Ramsey.

And a member of the Horse Racing Commission criticized the fair board for negotiating a deal without knowing the consequences.

"It's disappointing that after we had those conversations and you entered into this deal, you didn't contact any of us and discuss with us about what might it might mean," said horse racing Commissioner Phillip Kirk. "Some of you have made the statement you didn't understand the impact because you did, I explained it to you."

The fair board wasn't swayed by their arguments.

"The agreement we have in front of us is a good opportunity for us, and it's a sound opportunity," said fair board member John Smaligo.

And the board approved the deal, ending live racing for certain, and creating a dispute over the compact and whether the Creeks specifically still have to pay.

The tribe says they do not.

"This deal with Chief Tiger saying the Creeks are going to quit making payments; that's not what the compact says," said Joe Lucas, of the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Association.

The horsemen have already asked the governor to intervene to resolve the dispute over the compact. That could trigger arbitration that would settle the issue over whether the tribe has to pay the horsemen.

As for Fair Meadows, racing there is done and there's no indication that would possibly change.