The Choctaws operate six OTB parlors in Oklahoma, including one at Pocola, approximately 25 miles from Blue Ribbon.
That competition reportedly cost Blue Ribbon Downs $33,000 a month in purse revenues and almost $60,000 in other revenues in 1999. Track officials sought relief from the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission earlier this year. The commission voted in February to prohibit Remington from sending its signal to the Choctaw OTB parlors, but it didn’t deny the Choctaws the right to import other signals and continue simulcasting. Keating threatened in March not to renew the Choctaw compact unless specific aspects of it were revised. The Choctaws agreed, but to date the two parties haven’t been able to agree on a definitive compact. According to a spokesperson for the governor, he granted the extension of the existing compact—which was to have expired on July 31—so negotiations could continue.
“This was one of the most important votes we’ve had in the state capitol in many years,” Choctaw chief Gregory Pyle said. “It is a serious issue because money from off-track betting profits goes toward assistance for Choctaw people, such as college scholarships. (The profits) also help fund other services such as health and social services.”
According to a source close to the negotiations, one of the items being discussed in the negotiations is the Choctaw’s desire to offer games of skill at their OTB parlors, such as video bingo and electronic pull-tabs. Don Essary, general manager of Blue Ribbon Downs, said the proliferation of such games at Pocola would be devastating to his track.
“There is no doubt that if they get games of skill at Pocola, it would have a serious negative impact on our operation,” Essary said. “We’ve seen it go on all over the country. It’s almost as if racetracks can’t compete in the face of these games. We are very fearful of that taking place.”