Tulsa County fair board to take comments on deal with Creek Nation
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
12/04/12 at 7:11 AM
Related Story: Fair Board has questions to answer concerning racing decision
Thirty-three days after voting without comment to end live racing at Fair Meadows Racetrack, the Tulsa County fair board has agreed to take public comments on the issue.
The fair board announced Monday that it will take comments from the public when it meets Thursday to consider an amended naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, according to a statement issued by the fair board.
The statement makes no mention of whether the agreement's most controversial provision - which ends live horse racing at the racetrack - will be discussed by the fair board.
Thursday's meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the ExpoServe conference room of the armory annex on the fairgrounds.
"An agenda item will be considered for action on an amended Naming Rights and Sponsorship Agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation regarding waiver of sovereign immunity which were made and approved by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation after the approval of the Agreement by TCPFA at its meeting last month," the statement reads.
The practical effect of the amended agreement is to clarify which courts the parties can appeal to when legal disputes arise, county officials say.
"Since the November meeting, people with various opinions have expressed themselves, and, since the agreement was coming before the board again, I thought taking public comment in this regularly scheduled TCPFA monthly meeting was the appropriate thing to do," County Commissioner Fred Perry said Monday.
Representatives of the state's two largest horsemen's associations said they plan to attend Thursday's meeting to comment on the fair board's decision to end live horse racing at Fair Meadows Racetrack.
"Honestly, I have so many questions I don't know where to start," said Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association.
Joe Lucas, spokesman for the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma, said he wants the fair board to explain why no mention of live racing was included on the agenda when the fair board voted on the naming rights agreement.
"I just don't understand to this day how they can put it on the agenda, the naming rights, and have that be code for killing racing," Lucas said.
The fair board, also known as the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, is made up of five members: the three county commissioners - Perry, Karen Keith and John Smaligo - and two appointees, Daryl Woodard and Mike Spradling.
The board unanimously approved the naming rights agreement with the Creek Nation on Nov. 1 without discussion. A press release issued by Expo Square after the meeting made no mention of the agreement's provision to end live racing.
According to the deal, which took effect Dec. 1, the tribe will 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.
As part of the agreement, the fair board agreed to end live horse racing at Fair Meadows.
Without a license to hold live races, the racetrack will not receive the $2 million a year it was receiving from the Creek, Osage and Cherokee tribes in lieu of having gaming machines.
In question is whether the tribes will have to meet another provision of the compact that required them to pay into a purse fund that went to horsemen across the state.
The tribal agreement provided an average purse fund of $6.8 million a year between 2007 and 2011.
The payouts were part of the Tribal Gaming Act approved by voters in 2004 and includes compacts with 33 Oklahoma tribes.
The horsemen's associations believe that the fair board has no legal right to excuse the participating tribes from compliance with the gaming compact and that they remain obligated to pay into the purse fund.
The fair board has said repeatedly that live racing is no longer financially viable at Fair Meadows and that the board's first obligation is to the taxpayers of Tulsa County.
County officials have also denied that the agreement was made behind close doors. In a press release issued two weeks ago, county officials said that "the intention of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council was declared at a public meeting on August 25, 2012, when the Council granted Principal Chief (George) Tiger the authority to negotiate a deal with TCPFA to end live racing and enter into a naming rights agreement."
However, the agenda for the tribe's Aug. 25 meeting makes no mention of the issue.
Tiger said Monday that the tribe is not subject to the state's Open Meeting Act requirements and that just because the item was not on the agenda Aug. 25 does not mean it was not discussed in a public meeting.
Tiger said he received authorization for the tribe's national council in August but could not recall the exact date.
Meanwhile, QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornburgh said Monday that company officials have no intention of attending Thursday's meeting and wish the fairgrounds well as it moves forward.
The case for the naming rights agreement
Expo Square officials believe the fairgrounds' naming rights deal with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will provide a long-term source of steady revenue that could not be counted on under the Indian Gaming Compact.
The compact provided Fair Meadows with $2 million a year in lieu of having gaming machines at the racetrack. It also requires the Creek, Osage and Cherokee tribes to pay into a purse fund which is used by horsemen statewide.
Expo Square President and CEO Mark Andrus said the deal makes sense for the fairgrounds because costs associated with running the live meet continue to rise as attendance and live wagering continue to fall.
Andrus estimates that the new naming rights deal - coupled with the elimination of the costs associated with the live meet and the ability to use the property for other purposes - would provide the fairgrounds with an estimated $200,000 more next year than it would have under the gaming compact.
Here is a comparison of Expo Square's annual revenues and expenses under the two agreements:
$2 million per year from the Cherokee, Osage and Creek nations
$160,000 per year from QuikTrip (additional $70,000 went to Friends of the Fairgrounds)*
$300,000 per year from simulcast facility
Total Income: $2,460,000
$900,000 or more in operating costs
$75,000 in one-time expenses to fix grandstand
Total costs: $975,000
NET GAIN: $1,485,000
Muscogee (Creek) Nation naming rights agreement
$1,440,000 for naming rights
NET GAIN: $1,440,000
* Expo Square officials say that its naming rights agreement with QuikTrip would have paid the fairgrounds less in the future.
Equestrians United to Save Fair Meadows will hold a public meeting Wednesday to discuss ideas to save and improve the racetrack.
The meeting is from 4-6 p.m. at the Collinsville Library, 1223 Main St.
Original Print Headline: Fair board to hear from public
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313