Oklahoma Tribal Casinos Will Not Simulcast Kentucky Derby

Friday, May 4th 2007, 4:46 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Casinos in Oklahoma and Wisconsin owned by American Indian tribes will not be able to simulcast the Kentucky Derby after a federal judge issued a ruling against the company that relays the Churchill Downs signal to those casinos.

The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said last week it would exercise its right under federal law to prevent a signal being sent from a Kentucky racetrack to an out-of-state location.

Choctaw Racing Services, which provides the signal to 10 tribal-owned casinos in Oklahoma and one in Wisconsin, sued on Wednesday in federal court in Louisville, Ky. _ where the famed track is located _ asking for a temporary restraining order that would force the Kentucky horsemen's group to allow it to receive the Churchill Downs simulcast signal.

But U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson III on Thursday denied that request and said the lawsuit would proceed in a regular manner. No future hearing dates have been set in the case and the 133rd Derby will be run Saturday.

The Kentucky HBPA's actions do not affect the four racetracks in Oklahoma _ Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Fair Meadows in Tulsa and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore. Under state law, the tracks are required to split a portion of simulcast fees with state horsemen's groups.

The Kentucky HBPA's executive director, Marty Maline, has not returned numerous messages left on his cell phone by The Associated Press, but he told the Louisville Courier-Journal last week that the group took the action because Oklahoma tribal casinos no longer compensate Oklahoma horsemen for bets on simulcast races that are made at the tribal casinos, which compete with Oklahoma's racetracks.

In the lawsuit, Choctaw Racing Services _ a company based in Durant and owned by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma _ disputed that claim, saying it paid the Oklahoma HBPA $5,000 each month from January 2002 through April 2007 and that from January 2001 through April 2007, it has paid almost $3 million to three Oklahoma horsemen's groups.

Joe Lucas, the president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma _ the Oklahoma affiliate of the National HBPA _ has said that no one from the Kentucky HBPA contacted anyone from the Oklahoma organization about taking the action against the tribal casinos.

Choctaw Racing Services includes three claims in its lawsuit against the Kentucky HBPA _ a violation of the federal Sherman Act, an antitrust law; tortious interference with contracts and defamation.

In its response to the lawsuit, the Kentucky HPBA says Maline received ``threatening calls'' from attorneys for Choctaw Racing Services after the Kentucky group's decision to deny the simulcast signal to the company.

The response noted that the Kentucky HBPA expected Choctaw Racing Services' off-track betting sites ``to make contributions to horsemen's purses in Oklahoma for incoming signals from Churchill in the same amounts that all other (off-track betting facilities) in Oklahoma contributed to horsemen's purses.''

Jerry Levine, a Los Angeles-based attorney for Choctaw Racing Services, did not immediately return a phone message left Friday morning by the AP.

But James Dry, the general manager for Choctaw Racing Services, said the company is ``just going to move forward ... The most important thing is to take care of our customers.''

The 10 affected casinos in Oklahoma are operated by four different tribes and are located in Durant, Pocola, McAlester, Idabel, Ada, Goldsby, Newcastle, Thackerville, Lawton and Miami. Dry has said that patrons from the 10 casinos would be given the option to be taken by bus, at the tribe's expense, to Blue Ribbon Downs, which is owned by the Choctaw Nation. The distance to Sallisaw from the towns where those casinos are located ranges from 34 miles (Pocola) to 240 miles (Lawton).

The affected tribal casino in Wisconsin is in Green Bay.

Dry said he didn't know what kind of financial hit the casinos would take by being deprived of the simulcast signal from the world's most famous thoroughbred race, but racetracks that simulcast the Kentucky Derby typically attract large crowds on Derby Day.

``The big race days, you pay such a high signal fee, it's more of a day to give back to the public,'' Dry said.