It appears that live racing at Fair Meadows in Tulsa will continue in 2013 after the Tulsa County fair board on December 12 reversed course on a plan that would have eliminated racing at the track. At issue is a naming rights agreement that the fair board voted unanimously to approve on November 1. The deal with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation would have not only changed the name of the QuikTrip Center at Expo Square but also included a provision to cease live racing. The most recent vote deferred action on that deal.
The agreement called for the tribe to pay the fairgrounds $120,000 a month, or $1.44 million a year, to put its name on the 448,400-square foot event center currently called the QuikTrip Center. County and track officials justified the elimination of live racing as a cost-saving measure.
“The expenses of the live meet just continue to go up,” Ron Shotts, Fair Meadows’ race director, told the Tulsa World. “Our drug test costs, the costs of jockey insurance—those two items in and of themselves pretty much covered our gross revenue from the live meet.
“We paid two bills and basically started losing money,” he added, saying that the live meet annually lost approximately $600,000 in recent years with losses at close to $900,000 expected this year.
The meet operated with the help of a $2-million annual payment from the three Tulsa-area tribes in exchange for not installing gaming machines at the track.
The deal would have ended that payment, resulting in the loss of racing opportunities and purses for horsemen.
In a follow-up story in the Tulsa World, Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission Executive Director Tino Rieger expressed surprise at the announcement.
“I am extremely disappointed that the Horse Racing Commission had to read about such a dramatic revelation in the press,” he was quoted as saying in the newspaper on November 2, one day after the fair board vote.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed at losing more opportunities and even more so … the tribal fund money that was available for purses,” he added about the approximately one-third of the $2-million annual payment that went to purses.
Now, thanks to quick action from horsemen and members of the general public and especially the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma (TRAO) and State Representative Don Armes of Faxton, live racing should return in 2013. Armes had asked Governor Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt to investigate the closing of Fair Meadows and how the decision, which was done with no input from or notice to the horse racing industry, was reached.
“This job-killing, industry-terminating deal does not pass the smell test,” Armes said in a media statement. “What appears to be an obvious effort to circumvent terms of a compact needs to be exposed before an important sector of our economy leaves Oklahoma forever.”
The vote on December 12 rescinded two previous votes affirming the naming rights agreement.
“Well, it’s positive,” said Joe Lucas of TRAO to 2NEWS. “It’s what we’ve been asking for all along. It’s what we were promised and told they were going to do since back in June, which is run races in 2013.”
With live racing now set for continue in 2013, horsemen and track officials have the chance to discuss the future of the Tulsa facility.
“We would like an opportunity to show them that maybe their perception that they were losing money was not an accurate perception,” said Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association, to the Tulsa World. “I would like to work with them to show them how this could be a bird’s nest on the ground and they can make a lot of money off this race meet and do good for all of Oklahoma.”
Mark Andrus, president and CEO of Expo Square, would not comment on racing beyond 2013.
“After the board meeting, it is our intent to race in 2013,” he said to the newspaper. “I don’t know what will happen after that.”
The TRAO would like to thank Representative Armes for recognizing the lack of transparency Tulsa County officials used to conceal their dealings with the Creek Nation. Representative Armes is the last remaining Republican State House member who supported SB1252 (which later became SQ712) in 2004. The TRAO is asking members to let Mr. Armes know how much they appreciate his continued support of Oklahoma’s racing and breeding industries. He can be contacted at (405) 557-7307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.