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Choctaw Nation extends gaming compact with Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Choctaw Nation has agreed to extend its gaming compact with the state of Oklahoma. The decision follows a dispute over off-track wagering at Pocola, near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.

Blue Ribbon Downs, a horse-racing facility complained that off-track betting is hurting its business and in April, Republican Gov. Frank Keating announced he planned to terminate and renegotiate the compact with the nation. Blue Ribbon complained that off-track betting at Pocola and other locations hurt the state's horse racing industry and put those associated with the tracks out of work.

Although the compact is still being negotiated, the Choctaw will be allowed to continue off-track betting until Sept. 30. If there is no agreement between the state and the tribe by Dec. 31, the state will have the right to terminate the gaming compact.

"We certainly hope it doesn't come to that," Howard Barnett, the governor's chief of staff, said following a meeting with Choctaw leaders.

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"This was one of the most important votes we've had in the state capital in many years," said Choctaw Chief Gregory Pyle. "It is a serious issue because money from off-track betting profits goes toward assistance for Choctaw people, such as college scholarships. There were 1,500 college scholarships awarded last year, thanks to revenues from tribal businesses, including gaming. The tribe plans to increase the number of scholarships next year."

"Profits from the off-track wagering portion of our gaming operations help with fulfilling these education needs, and also help fund other services such as health and social services," the chief said.

Emotion regarding off-track betting has been running high at the state capital with frequent reports of Oklahoma lawmakers arguing with each other over the issue.

Tribal leaders for the Choctaw Nation understand how charged the issue is in Oklahoma. "We appreciate the support of the state Legislature for standing with the Choctaw Nation for a cause that is very needed ... unlike a private company where the money goes back to stockholders, this money goes back to Choctaw men and women through tribally funded services," Assistant Chief Mike Bailey said.