Oklahoma's horse racing industry facing trouble.


Sunday, July 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


Wagering at Oklahoma's horse racing tracks
has fallen by almost half in the past five years, jeopardizing the
future of the state's horse industry.
Two of Oklahoma's three licensed tracks are running in the red.
State officials and track managers say if tracks do not become more
competitive with Indian gaming centers, Oklahoma could lose
thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.
The amount spent on betting at Oklahoma's three operating tracks
was about $302 million in 1997. Last year, four Oklahoma tracks
took in about $175 million from wagering.
State Rep. Fred Stanley, D-Madill, said legislation allowing
three tracks -- Remington Park, Blue Ribbon Downs and Fair Meadows --
to offer bettors more races won't be enough to put the businesses
back in the black.
The fourth track -- Will Rogers Downs in Claremore -- opened in
1987, but owners declared bankruptcy in 1991. The track reopened in
1998, but simulcasting of races ended last year.
In recent years, race tracks could only take six full cards,
meaning they could only simulcast races from six venues in one day,
although they have the capacity to show more than two dozen.
State tribal gaming centers have no limitations.
Senate Bill 1326, passed by the Legislature this spring, removed
the limits allowing the three race tracks to take as many signals
as they can handle.
Tony Choate, spokesman for the Chickasaw Tribe, said from
October 2001 to June 2002, the Chickasaws earned a profit of more
than $7 million from more than $198 million in revenue at its
gaming operations, including off-track betting, bingo and
electronic gaming machines.
Stanley said the law is a small step in the right direction.
"I don't think it's going to have enough impact for Remington
to start making money," Stanley said. "Remington is losing money.
Sallisaw is losing money. This legislation is not going to have so
much impact that it is going to turn those two facilities around."
Fred Hutton, director of racing at Remington, said full-board
simulcasting will be of great benefit to the tracks.
"We're in the red, but we're pursuing things that will help us
in that respect," Hutton said. "We're looking forward to this
meet and getting things turned around."
Hutton said Remington races will be simulcast in at least 11 new
outlets across the nation
The horse industry employs more people in Oklahoma and has more
of a financial investment than General Motors and American
Airlines, Stanley said. Oklahoma, per capita, is the No. 1 producer
of quarter horses in the world.
Don Essary, general manager of Sallisaw's Blue Ribbon Downs,
said the horse racing industry has a $3.3 billion annual economic
impact on the state. Blue Ribbon Downs held its first race in 1984.
In Tulsa, Fair Meadows general manager Ron Shotts said he has
seen tracks go broke in several states, but state help has brought
them back above the mark.
To see a turnaround in business, Stanley said the tracks must
offer more gaming opportunities such as bingo, which is now
prohibited.