Fair board amends naming rights contract, affirms an end to horse racing at Fair Meadows
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Friday, December 07, 2012
12/07/12 at 7:33 AM
In a meeting that looked and sounded much different from the first time the issue was taken up, the Tulsa County fair board on Thursday stuck by its decision to end live horse racing at Fair Meadows Racetrack.
In a 4-0 vote, the board approved an amended version of a naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that includes a provision ending live horse racing at the racetrack.
"We have to consider the big picture," said County Commissioner and fair board Chairman Fred Perry. "We have to consider the future and we have to consider Tulsa County citizens as a whole, and we are doing that in this situation."
On Nov. 1, the board voted unanimously to do the same thing. But at that meeting, the vote was taken without comment and the live horse racing provision of agreement was not listed on the agenda. Nor was the issue mentioned in a press release issued by the Expo Square.
Thursday was different. Agendas that specifically listed the live racing issue were placed on each chair set up for the public, copies of the amended naming rights agreement were made available and one hour was set aside for public comments.
The amended agreement clarifies to which courts the parties can appeal to resolve legal disputes.
The board did not take questions from the 75 or so people in attendance.
Perry said after the meeting that he wished he had handled the initial vote on the agreement differently.
"Frankly, yes," Perry said. "To the degree that we have not provided transparency up until that time, then as chairman, I take responsibility for that, and the buck stops with me."
Perry said the fair board did not take questions from the public on the advice of legal counsel.
"We have been notified of litigation proceedings and whenever you are in that kind of situation, legal counsel tends to advise his clients in that manner," Perry said.
The agreement calls 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. The agreement also bring to an end live racing at the Fair Meadows Racetrack.
Without a license to hold live races, Fair Meadows will not receive the $2 million a year it was receiving from the Creek, Osage and Cherokee tribes in lieu of having gaming machines.
Still up for debate is whether the tribes are required to pay into a fund to supplement horse racing purses statewide. The purse fund averaged $6.8 million a year between 2007 and 2011.
Attorney Mark Ramsey, representing the state's thoroughbred and quarter horse associations, told the fair board that he believes the tribes are obligated to pay into the fund and that he intends to make sure they do.
"This board has no authority to excuse payment of the compact," Ramsey said. "So you need to know that anything that you do, we are going to ask Gov. (Mary) Fallin to make it an issue with the National Indian Gaming Commission (and go to) arbitration if necessary," Ramsey said.
He said after the meeting that he has already sent a letter to Fallin requesting that she look into the matter and determine whether the state should file a complaint with the Creek Nation. Should the governor decide to do so, it would then be her responsibility to negotiate a resolution to the dispute.
Should those negotiations fail, Fallin could then demand that the dispute be heard by an arbitrator agreed to by both parties, Ramsey said.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, said members of the governor's staff and Cabinet will meet with a representative of Oklahoma's thoroughbred and quarter horse associations next week.
Many of the speakers at Thursday's meeting questioned the economic benefits of the deal for Fair Meadows and asked why the horsemen were not part of the discussions leading up to the fair board's decision.
"I would think you people would take into consideration the way that you did this," Joe Bysong said. "Understand we just voted down Vision 2.
"I think it is the mistrust of ramrodding things through without any input is what has got the community concerned about their elected officials and their misplaced trust in them."
Creek Nation Principal Chief George Tiger has said previously that negotiations on the naming rights agreement with the Expo Square began in January or February. Ramsey and others affiliated with the horse racing industry say they were never made aware of the negotiations.
"There has been no transparency in this process, and there needs to be," Ramsey said.
Mark Andrus, Expo Square president and CEO, said the naming rights agreement was handled like any other contract at the fairgrounds.
"We did not include the horsemen in our discussion and negotiations much like we wouldn't include one horse show promoter in our contract negotiations or our negotiations with another horse show promoter," Andrus said.
Prior to casting their votes, the board trustees each said his or her decision was based on fiduciary responsibility to the fairgrounds and the taxpayers of Tulsa County.
Perry noted that the fairgrounds overall made less than $150,000 in 2011 and insisted that whatever replaces horse racing on the property will "more than offset the job losses and other economic losses that have been mentioned today."
Fair board vote
The Tulsa County fair board, formally known as the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, voted 4-0 Thursday to approve an amended version of its naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The amended agreement clarifies which courts to which the parties can appeal to resolve legal disputes.
The fair board is made up of five members: the three county commissioners - Chairman Fred Perry, Karen Keith and John Smaligo - and two appointees, Daryl Woodard and Mike Spradling.
Spradling was absent from Thursday's meeting.
Highlights of the agreement
Beginning in January, the tribe will pay the fairgrounds $120,000 a month, or $1.44 million a year, to rename the QuikTrip Center the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Center.
The agreement runs through 2019 but will stay in effect beyond that as long as the state's Indian tribes have a gaming compact with the state's other race tracks.
Over the next two years, the Creek Nation has the first right to propose a plan for development of the land now occupied by Drillers Stadium.
Original Print Headline: Fair board again votes to end live horse races
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313
James Flores (right), a jockey who moved to Tulsa from Harlingen, Texas, listens Thursday along with his agent, Bob Knight, and trainer, Connie Barnes, during a fair board meeting. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Mark Ramsey, the attorney representing the state's horsemen's associations, speaks during a fair board meeting Thursday on the amended naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World