Judge Dismisses Choctaw Lawsuit Over Churchill Downs Signal

A federal judge has dismissed a case involving a dispute between a company owned by an American Indian tribe and a Kentucky horsemen's group over simulcast signals from Churchill Downs.

In a ruling issued Oct. 24, U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson III upheld the request by Choctaw Racing Services, which is owned by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, to dismiss the suit it filed in early May against the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

In the week before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the Choctaw group sued in federal court in Kentucky after the Kentucky HBPA said it would exercise its right under federal law to prevent a simulcast signal being sent from Churchill Downs to an out-of-state location.

Choctaw Racing Services provides signals to 10 tribal-owned casinos in Oklahoma and one in Wisconsin. Two days before Street Sense won the 133rd Derby, Simpson denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have forced the Kentucky HBPA to allow the Choctaw group to receive the Churchill Downs signal.

The Kentucky HBPA's actions did not affect the four racetracks in Oklahoma -- Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Fair Meadows in Tulsa, and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore. Under state law, the tracks are required to split a portion of simulcast fees with state horsemen's groups.

The Kentucky HBPA's executive director, Marty Maline, said at the time that the group took the action because Oklahoma tribal casinos no longer compensate Oklahoma horsemen for bets on simulcast races that are made at the tribal casinos, which compete with Oklahoma's racetracks.

In the lawsuit, Choctaw Racing Services disputed that claim, saying it paid the Oklahoma HBPA $5,000 each month from January 2002 through April 2007 and that from January 2001 through April 2007, it has paid almost $3 million to three Oklahoma horsemen's groups.

The Kentucky HBPA filed for dismissal of the suit soon after Simpson's initial ruling. In a court filing on Aug. 2, Charles Pritchett Jr., a Louisville attorney representing the Choctaw group, said the two parties had met, along with the Oklahoma HBPA and officials from Remington Park, Oklahoma's largest track, in an attempt to resolve their differences.

During those discussions, the Kentucky HBPA offered a settlement demand that the Choctaw group "cannot accept, as it  essentially would eliminate (the) Plaintiff's already-thin profit margins," according to the filing. No settlement was reached. The Choctaw group said in the filing it would simply forgo simulcasting races from Churchill Downs.

The Choctaw group then asked to dismiss the suit, but the Kentucky HBPA protested and asked permission to file a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment.

Simpson denied the Kentucky HBPA's request, calling it "an attempt at closing the barn door after the horses are out, so to speak," and saying the group "has no live controversy upon which to premise jurisdiction." He said the control the Kentucky HBPA wielded over the Choctaw group was "event-specific."

The 10 affected casinos in Oklahoma are operated by four tribes and are located in Durant, Pocola, McAlester, Idabel, Ada, Goldsby, Newcastle, Thackerville, Lawton, and Miami. The affected tribal casino in Wisconsin is in Green Bay.

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