Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill Wednesday to authorize a statewide vote Nov. 2 on whether to allow pari-mutuel horse racing tracks to operate electronic gambling machines now played only at Indian casinos.
Senate Bill 1252 also repeals an earlier gaming bill that had been the target of a referendum petition drive by anti-gambling activists.
The measure also sets up a model gaming compact with Indian tribes and allows the state to regulate and share in the profit from tribal casinos. New language was added to the bill that would appropriate $250,000 annually for the treatment of gambling addiction and increase by 100 the number of machines that could be installed at Remington Park in Oklahoma City.
If approved by the voters, the law is expected to generate $71 million annually, most of which would fund public schools and college scholarships.
The proposal, which was a key part of Henry's platform this year, has been touted as critical to saving the state's horse industry.
"I'm glad that the bill passed and Governor Henry signed it. I'm ready to go forward into the next part of this endeavor, which is getting it into law on Nov. 2," said Joe Lucas, president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma.
"The quicker this gets on the ballot, the sooner the state of Oklahoma's education and our horsemen start benefiting from the money that can be derived from it."
Opponents of the bill say they will continue to gather signatures in an effort to overturn Senate Bill 553, the original gaming bill.
Ray Sanders, a spokesman for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said an attorney general's opinion has been requested on the legality of including a referendum and a repealer in the same bill.
"This is an unprecedented approach, and until we hear from the attorney general, we will continue to circulate the petitions," Sanders said.
Sanders said churches around the state are planning a "petition-signing Sunday" on June 27 to get their members to express their opposition to the expansion of gambling in Oklahoma.
"We think gambling violates numerous biblical principles," Sanders said. "We know of no financial planner who would recommend anyone invest a dollar in the lottery or a quarter on a slot machine. It's just not wise.
"We've used the analogy of a mousetrap to explain gambling. One or two might get the cheese, but the rest are going to end up with broken necks."