Blue Ribbon purchase could delay progress on tribal gaming compact

Saturday, November 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Choctaw Nation's purchase of Blue Ribbon Downs racetrack could stall progress of a gaming agreement between the state, American Indian tribes and the horse racing industry.

Backstretch LLC, a private firm owned by the Choctaw Nation, recently purchased the bankrupt Sallisaw track.

State and tribal officials and horse industry representatives met this week to try to craft a new agreement on legislation that would establish a model compact and allow state race tracks to offer certain types of electronic games.

"We obviously have run into some difficulties, at least in part developed because the Choctaws went and bought Blue Ribbon Downs in the Cherokee Territory last week," Gov. Brad Henry said Friday. "We're trying to work through those issues and keep it from falling apart because of that."

The governor said Indian tribes and the state have a symbiotic relationship.

"They know that they need to work with the state, just like we need to work with them," he said.

Exactly what the problems are between the two tribes and how that will affect compact negotiations is not clear. Officials with the Choctaw Nation were not available for comment, and Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller declined to comment.

Henry and State Finance Director and Secretary of Finance Scott Meacham, who spearheaded negotiations between the parties, said they expect to have a compact to present to lawmakers before the February start of the legislative session.

Meacham said the tribes and horse racing industry were close to an agreement before the Choctaws bought Blue Ribbon Downs.

Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Association, said the industry has been encouraged by the fact that talks have been ongoing.

"Ultimately, it doesn't have to do with who owns what racetrack," she said. "It's about finding a solution that's good for the state."

Legislation to allow racetracks to use electronic gaming devices died in the House of Representatives on May 30, the final day of the legislative session. The bill was designed to provide financial assistance to racetracks, but included extensive language about tribal gaming compacts.

Schauf said she's confident the Legislature will pass a compact bill this year that would help the horse racing industry.

"If the Legislature doesn't act, 50,000 jobs in this state are going to take a walk," she said. "That's going to be harmful to the industry, and especially harmful to many families in rural Oklahoma."