Closing Of Tulsa's Fair Meadows Race Track Faces Criticism

Tuesday, November 20th 2012, 7:08 pm

A state representative is asking for an investigation of the Tulsa County fair board and how they ended horse racing at Fair Meadows race track.

At the same time, the state's two horsemen trade groups say they'll ask the Governor to intervene to keep their industry going.

State Representative Don Armes wants the Attorney General to determine whether it was legal for the Tulsa County fair board to close down Fair Meadows race track.

The AG hasn't taken on the matter yet, but horsemen are pushing for some quick answers.

11/19/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Lawmaker Wants Investigation Into Closing Of Tulsa Race Track

Fair Meadows is closed for the season and this time it could be for good.

The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA), in a deal with the Creek Nation for naming rights at Expo Square, also agreed to end live horse racing at Fair Meadows.

"It's an economic win-win for everybody involved," said Creek Nation Chief George Tiger.

Not everyone agrees with that, but County officials described it as a way to make money for the fairgrounds, after years of losing money on races at the track, where attendance peaked in 1992.

According to the TCPFA, horse racing at Fair Meadows has been on a steady decline in monies wagered, attendance and profit since the mid-1990s. The 2011 live racing season totaled a loss of $823,819, the biggest loss ever recorded at Fair Meadows, the authority said.

"We know we have a substantial source of revenue that we can rely on to support those wonderful facilities the people of Tulsa County have built for us," said Ron Shotts, Fair Meadows Race Director.

But ending live racing at Fair Meadows also impacts the livelihood of horsemen.

The three big tribes - the Creeks, Osage and Cherokees - paid Fair Meadows to not have slot machines that would compete with Indian casinos.

The tribes pay horsemen almost $7 million each year under the deal, but that money is in question because the track has closed.

Even though there's only two other tracks in the state, industry leaders say the loss of the venue isn't as important as the money that was supporting horsemen.

They're asking the Governor to enforce the compact and are anticipating legal action against the Tulsa County Fair Board.

The TCPFA released a statement in response Tuesday evening, saying Representative Armes had mischaracterized that the decision to close Fair Meadows was based on "greed."

"We strongly disagree with Representative Armes' outrageous and irresponsible accusations," said Commissioner Fred Perry, TCPFA Chairman. "His claim that the industry will lose 7,000 jobs is unfounded, and all actions taken pertaining to this agreement were in a public meeting with the agenda posted prior to the meeting, as required by state law. This was a business decision by the TCPFA Board, and while we know there will be some impact to the horse racing industry, it is not in the best interest of Tulsa County citizens to continue live racing at Fair Meadows."