Some Tribal Casinos Having Simulcast Signal Blocked

Friday, April 27th 2007, 4:08 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Less than 10 days before the world's most famous thoroughbred race, Oklahoma casinos owned by American Indian tribes learned they would have their simulcast signal from Churchill Downs blocked, meaning they might not be able to take bets on the Kentucky Derby.

In taking the action earlier this week, the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association exercised its right under federal law to prevent a signal being sent from a Kentucky racetrack to an out-of-state location.

Marty Maline, the Kentucky HBPA's executive director, did not return messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday and Friday at his office and on his cell phone.

But he told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday that the action was taken 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 four racetracks -- Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Fair Meadows in Tulsa and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore.

"All we're saying is do it like you used to," Maline told the newspaper.

Choctaw Racing Services, based in Durant and owned by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, provides the simulcast signals for 10 tribal casinos in Oklahoma, said the company's general manager, James Dry. Those casinos, operated by four different tribes, are located in Durant, Pocola, McAlester, Idabel, Ada, Goldsby, Newcastle, Thackerville, Lawton and Miami.

Choctaw Racing's Los Angeles-based attorney, Jerry Levine, on Friday called the Kentucky HBPA's action "unfortunate, because it's based on what we think is false information. The Choctaws have paid over $3 million to the racing industry in Oklahoma, including everything that's supposed to go to the horsemen.

"We have supplied all the data to Kentucky horsemen and are hopeful that now that they see there's been a mistake they will correct it immediately," Levine said.

Churchill Downs' spring racing meet will begin Saturday and will include the 133rd Kentucky Derby, which will be run May 5 at the famed Louisville track.

Levine said that under a 1991 agreement between the Choctaws, the National HBPA, the Oklahoma HBPA and Remington Park – the state's largest racetrack -- the tribe provides a monthly flat fee of $50,000 to the other three entities.

The Choctaws "are doing everything they're supposed to do and always have," Levine said.

"Every minute they wait so that we can't announce that this has been a big mistake is dangerous," he said.

The action does not affect the simulcast signals sent to Oklahoma racetracks, which are required under state law to split a portion of simulcast fees with state horsemen's groups.

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

"I'm not upset," Lucas said. "I have nothing to be upset about either way. As long as it doesn't affect the racetracks in the state and it's only tribal, it doesn't affect our horsemen."

Lucas said the Oklahoma group favors having tribal casinos pay the same percentage as the non-tribal casinos toward purses for state horsemen, but "that's something that's not new. That's been for years and years ... This is not a new situation in Oklahoma."

The Kentucky Derby is usually a profitable event for racetracks that simulcast the event, said Constantin Rieger, the executive director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission. The commission has no regulatory authority over tribal casinos, but Rieger said he believed that the Derby simulcast probably provides a high-profit day as well for those casinos.

"The (Kentucky) Derby is probably the most dramatic signal that can affect facilities," Rieger said.

In a statement, Dry said that "regardless of what happens," Choctaw Racing has made arrangements for any patron at a tribal casino served by the company "to view and wager on races at Churchill Downs on Derby Day."

Dry 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).