Oklahoma approves gaming machine legislationOklahoma Gov. Brad Henry applauded the recent passage of Senate Bill 553 which paves the way for gaming machines to be installed at three of the state's four racetracks.
"The Oklahoma Legislature took a tremendous step forward for economic development and education last week when it passed major legislation to regulate existing tribal gaming, help the horse-racing industry and produce a big funding boost for public schools and college scholarships," he said in a prepared statement.
Henry is expected to sign the bill, and it would take effect Sept. 1.
Remington Park, Blue Ribbon Downs and Will Rogers Downs are eligible for the machines, which are limited to electronic amusement games, electronic bonanza-style bingo games, and electronic instant bingo games. Located in the large metro area of Oklahoma City, Remington Park is allowed 650 machines; the other two tracks are allowed 250 machines. The fourth racetrack, Tulsa's Fair Meadows, although not included in the gaming machine allocation, will receive a percentage of the proceeds from machines at tribal casinos in the Tulsa area.
Under the terms of the legislation, the racing industry receives the lion's share of the revenues generated from the machines. On the first $30 million in gaming revenue, the state receives just 10 percent (earmarked for education). The balance is split approximately one-third to horsemen and breeders' funds and two-thirds to the tracks. Once revenues exceed $30 million annually, the state tax rises in steps to a maximum of 30 percent on gaming revenues over $70 million.
"The legislative leadership, including the governor, were very concerned about the health of the horse-racing industry," so strong purses were a major goal of the legislation, said Corey Johnsen, group vice president for Magna Entertainment, which owns Remington Park.
As for the large share to the tracks, Johnsen explained that legislators also recognized that the authorized games are "somewhat tightly defined machines, [without] quite the profitability [of slot machines], and it costs more to lease or purchase those machines because there aren't quite as many vendors that offer them."
"I think it's a big shot in the arm for Oklahoma horse racing," said Johnsen. He was not overly concerned about a possible attempt to force a public vote on the issue, citing polls that indicate well over 60 percent of adults in the state favor the measure.
The bill also includes a model tribal compact, which specifies fees paid to the state (again for education) in return for the "substantial exclusivity" granted the tribes for gaming. Those fees range from 4 percent to 6 percent of the gaming revenues from the machines based on annual revenues. In addition, the state will receive 10 percent of the monthly win on common pool or prize pots generated in non-house banked card games at the tribal casinos.