Fair board to reconsider racing at Fair Meadows
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
12/11/12 at 7:04 AM
Expo Square officials will consider rescinding a controversial naming rights agreement with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that included a provision to end live horse racing at Fair Meadows, they said Monday.
The decision is based on the fact that Fair Meadows, without the Tulsa County fair board's consent or knowledge, had signed agreements with the state's two largest horsemen's associations to hold live races in 2013, according to a news release issued by Expo Square.
A special meeting of the fair board - the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority - is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday to consider the continuation of live racing for 2013 and a new naming rights agreement with the Creek Nation. The fair board oversees Expo Square.
The news was welcomed by the state's two horsemen's associations, which would lose $6 million to $8 million a year in purse money with the end of live racing in Tulsa.
"I really applaud their action, if it is sincere, to try to make things right," said Debbie Schauf, executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association. "And I think this gives us a year to all work together to see if we can do something to make their races better and resolve the issues that we have."
Without a license to hold live races, Fair Meadows would not have received the $2 million a year it was getting from the Creek, Osage and Cherokee tribes in exchange for not having gaming machines at the track.
At issue was whether the tribes were legally obligated to continue paying into a fund that went to horse racing purses statewide. The purse fund averaged $6.8 million a year between 2007 and 2011.
Creek Nation Principal Chief George Tiger said Monday that the tribe will make the payments if live races are run at Fair Meadows next year. The Osage and Cherokee tribes have previously indicated that they will abide by the compact as long as they are required to by law.
"We always honor any agreement," Tiger said "We will continue to do what the compact asks us to do, and that is that."
He said the tribe has always been focused on the naming rights aspect of the deal with Expo Square - not live racing.
"So whatever is between the fair board and the horsemen's associations, we respect, (including) whatever agreements have been signed in the past" Tiger said.
"Our intent has always been to be a good neighbor and to foster positive relationships for all involved."
The naming rights agreement was first approved without comment by the fair board on Nov. 1, drawing immediate criticism from horsemen across the state who claimed that it would devastate their industry.
Neither the Nov. 1 fair board agenda nor a press release issued after the fair board's vote mentioned the live horse racing provision of the agreement.
Horsemen also have criticized the fair board for not including them in their discussions about ending live racing at Fair Meadows.
Last Thursday, the fair board voted on an amended naming rights agreement that clarified in which courts legal disputes between the parties can be heard. The meeting drew about 75 people.
The fair board's agenda for Wednesday calls for the board to consider rescinding its Nov. 1 and Dec. 6 votes on the naming rights agreement as well as the Fair Meadows racing director's letter to the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission relinquishing the racetrack's license to hold live races.
The agenda also lists possible new action on the naming rights agreement.
County Commissioner and fair board Chairman Fred Perry said in the press release that the fair board was not aware of Fair Meadows' contracts with the horsemen's associations (to hold racing in 2013) until the public comment period of last week's fair board meeting.
"When confronted with this new information, it was imperative to take aggressive and timely action," Perry said. "I believe it is appropriate to follow the terms of the agreements regarding the 2013 race meeting, which is why I have requested a special meeting to address the issue."
Contacted by telephone late Monday, Perry declined to comment on how the fair board could have been unaware of the agreements.
"I would just refer you to the press release," he said.
Fair Meadows Racing Director Ron Shotts signed agreements with the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma in October, agreeing to run live horse races at the racetrack in 2013. In the press release, Shotts insists that he did not inform the fair board or its legal counsel of the agreements before the naming rights deal was approved.
"I apologize to all parties for any inconvenience and take full responsibility for my actions," Shotts said. "The agreements, which I have executed for many years, were commonplace for receiving the annual racing licenses.
"I will work with the associations and my staff to conduct the 2013 race meet to the best of our ability."
But Tino Rieger, executive director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, said he was not sure whether Fair Meadows would be allowed to hold live races in 2013.
"If they were to come to us in January 2103, they would be a nonlicensed racetrack, and I think at that point the commission would have to review the licensing process for the legal ramifications," Rieger said.
Original Print Headline: Fair board to reconsider racing
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313