Creek Nation chief says tribe will no longer pay into state horsemen's purse fund
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
12/05/12 at 7:39 AM
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger said Tuesday that the tribe does not intend to continue paying into the state horsemen's purse fund now that Fair Meadows Racetrack has ceased live horse racing.
Tiger said that over the years it has not been unusual for compacts or treaties between U.S. government entities and American Indian tribes to end for one reason or another.
"I don't think this would have been an issue at all if there wasn't going to be any losses to the purse funds," Tiger said. "We just saw this as an opportunity, we addressed it and as far as we're concerned we're moving on." Tiger's comments came two days before the Tulsa County fair board is scheduled to meet to consider an amended naming rights agreement with the Creek Nation.
Fair board Chairman Fred Perry repeated Tuesday that the public will have an opportunity to comment on the agreement before the amended version is voted on.
The deal - approved Nov. 1 without comment - calls for the Creek Nation to pay Expo Square $1.44 million a year and includes a provision ending live horse racing at Fair Meadows.
According to documents obtained by the World under the state's Open Records Act, none of the fair board's five members had any written correspondence with Fair Meadows officials prior to the vote.
"The trustees of the board were kept fully informed through conversations by (Fair Meadows Racing Director) Ron Shotts and myself," said Mark Andrus, Expo Square president and CEO. "My preference is always to communicate first-hand to avoid miscommunication, words being taken out of context and to allow an ongoing dialogue."
The naming rights agreement has called into question whether the Creek Nation, along with the Osage and Cherokee nations, would continue to be legally obligated to pay into a statewide purse fund that was established as part of the Tribal Gaming Act approved by voters in 2004.
If not, the tribes would save millions of dollars a year - and the Creek Nation would be the biggest beneficiary.
The tribe has paid $12 million since the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission began collecting the purse fund in 2005.
From January 2010 through September 2012, the Creeks have paid $7.2 million into the fund. During the same period, the Cherokee Nation has paid $6.3 million and the Osage Nation $4.5 million, according to figures provided by the Horse Racing Commission.
In addition, the tribes have been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to Fair Meadows in lieu of the racetrack having gaming machines. Amanda Clinton, spokeswoman for the Cherokee Nation, said the tribe "will continue to pay what we are obligated to pay under the compact."
The Osage Nation did not return a call for comment when contacted by the World late Tuesday.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said it would be up to the governor - in consultation with her legal staff - to determine whether requirements of the compact remain in force.
Tiger said the tribe was aware of the money it would save by not being part of the compact but that was not the primary reason for making the naming rights deal.
"Any time that you can save money and that money can go back into the tribe, then certainly you're going to consider that in so much as it provides additional programs we can fund," Tiger said. "We were looking at it from the standpoint of the naming rights because that is a prime piece of property. That was the emphasis."
A Muscogee (Creek) Nation resolution authorizing Tiger to execute an agreement with the fair board states that the agreement will "save River Spirit Casino over two million dollars a year and provide the Nation with both a substantial marketing opportunity, as well as facilitate good public relations with the City and County of Tulsa." The resolution goes on to say that the River Spirit Casino pay the Creek Nation's controller "the equivalent of all amounts and fees that were due under the Gaming Compact."
The documents provided to the World show that the fair board and Creek Nation were exchanging drafts of the naming rights agreement as early as Aug. 31. "I have attached a draft of a proposed agreement for your review," Shotts wrote that day in an email to Yonne Tiger with the Creek Nation. "We have a board meeting on September 6. If possible we would like to have something to present for approval ..."
Another email from Shotts to Yonne Tiger, dated Oct. 14, asks for Chief Tiger's help in enlisting the Cherokee Nation's assistance in the deal.
"I need to meet with the Cherokees regarding simulcast operations," Shotts wrote. "If they will make Fair Meadows an off-track betting facility, then we can terminate our license as soon as that is accomplished. If that cannot be accomplished, then we can discuss a termination date with you. ... I might need Chief Tiger to call and set up a meeting with (Cherokee) Chief (Bill John) Baker and Chief Tiger and me to explain what we need and the Cherokee's involvement."
Thursday's fair board meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the ExpoServe conference room of the armory annex on the fairgrounds.
Indian compact payments
Here is what the Creek, Osage and Cherokee nations paid into the purse fund and to Fair Meadows in 2010, 2011 and the first 10 months of 2012:
||Purse fund payment
Sources: Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission and Expo Square
Original Print Headline: Creeks say tribe will no longer pay purse fund
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313
George Tiger: The Muscogee (Creek) Nation's leader said over the years it is not unusual for compacts or treaties to end for one reason or another.