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Senate Votes to Save Horse Racing Industry, Provide State Regulation

Sen. Dick Wilkerson and Sen. Pres. Pro Tempore Cal Hobson talk to reporters after Senate passage of SB 553.
of Tribal Gaming

A bill that would boost purses at Oklahoma’s four pari-mutuel horse racing facilities, allow the state to regulate the more than 80 tribal casinos in Oklahoma and provide millions of dollars for education passed the State Senate on a 30-18 vote Wednesday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson, author of the bill, said he was pleased with the outcome of the vote.

“This is a significant step in saving the more than 50,000 jobs in Oklahoma’s horse industry, which is on the verge of collapse. I’m thrilled that a majority of my colleagues in the Senate recognize the crisis and that this legislation is the best way to solve it,” said Hobson, D-Lexington.

Senate Bill 553 allows three of the state’s four pari-mutuel horse racing tracks to operate a limited number of electronic gaming machines like the ones in tribal casinos in Oklahoma. Proceeds from the machines will be used to increase purses at all four tracks. The larger purses will give horsemen the ability to continue to do business in Oklahoma and will allow race tracks in the state to continue to operate, said Senator Dick Wilkerson. The state would also receive a portion of the proceeds.

Wilkerson, D-Atwood, presented the bill on the Senate floor. He said the bill also includes a model gaming compact between the state and Native American tribes. The compact spells out what kind of games can be offered in tribal casinos, giving the tribes legal certainty about their gaming operations.

It also gives oversight of tribal gaming operations to the Office of State Finance and requires tribes to pay a portion of their gaming revenues to the state, Wilkerson said.

“Right now, we’ve got more than 80 casinos in Oklahoma and the state has no regulatory authority over their operations and isn’t getting a dime in revenue from them,” Wilkerson said.

State officials anticipate that Senate Bill 553 will provide $71 million in additional revenue to the state. The bill dedicates that money to the Education Reform Fund created by House Bill 1017 in 1990 and to the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program which provides college scholarships to students from low and middle income families.

Senate Bill 553, which was first introduced in the First Session of the 49th Oklahoma Legislature last year, now goes to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for a floor vote.

“Today’s vote in the Senate was a milestone, but the work is not yet complete. The 50,000 Oklahomans who depend on the horse industry for their paychecks still must convince a majority of House members that their jobs are worth saving and convince them to vote for this bill,” Hobson said.

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President Pro Tempore Office - (405) 521-5605