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Racetrack Revival: The Chickasaw Nation Turned an Oklahoma City Racetrack and Casino into an Entertainment Haven

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While the racing industry struggles across most of the U.S., Oklahoma City-based Remington Park's success under Global Gaming Solutions is gaining notice, Constantin Rieger, the executive director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, told the Associated Press.

“People see the numbers, obviously,” Rieger said. “They call and ask, ‘What the heck is going on?’ I just said, ‘Whatever was supposed to happen, it's coming to fruition,’” he told the AP. “It's taken somebody to say, ‘We're going to make this happen.’ This group is strong enough and committed enough to get it done."

Reigar calls Remington Park's success “an anomaly, but it's wonderful.”

Crediting the change in ownership to the gaming arm of the Chickasaw Nation, he also noted the benefits of State Question 712 passage in 2004. The law transformed the state’s playing field, allowing casinos at Oklahoma racetracks, aiming to keep them on good financial standing. Oklahoma is one of 13 states to allow racetrack casinos, according to the American Gaming Association.

In January 2010, Global Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation, acquired the facility for $80.25 million from Magna Entertainment Corp., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 30, 2010, according to Magna Entertainment’s Official Creditors’ Committee Website. Global Gaming moved in with a mission. "We've approached it as an entertainment facility," Global Gaming CEO John Elliott told the AP. "The more amenities, the more entertainment you've got for people, the more likely you are to get them out here."

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The strategy is paying off. Remington Park set an attendance record, drawing 1,756,616 attendees in 2010, reported the AP. The park pulled in a $14-million increase in pari-mutuel handle during the 2010 Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred seasons, reported Combined thoroughbred bets for the two seasons jumped more than 19 percent to $73,935,016 from $59,863,954 in 2009 under Global Gaming’s ownership, stated the Oklahoma newspaper.

State regulators and veteran horsemen set high expectations for the racetrack and casino’s performance due to the Ada-based tribe’s local success track. Global Gaming surpassed those marks, Rieger said. "I have to say, as a regulator, everything they told us they were going to do has already happened at warp speed," Rieger told the AP. "They are continuing to upgrade the facility, to make it as aesthetically pleasing to patrons as they can."

Pouring $15 million into renovations, Global Gaming revealed Remington Park’s makeover on March 3, the day prior to the track’s annual Quarter Horse meet, a 50-date event running to Memorial Day, reported Racing Daily Form. Among improvements like upgrading the Clubhouse level, remodeling pari-mutuel windows, adding more spectator-viewing areas, and upgrading hundreds of games, a four-story, high-definition screen was added to the infield. Elliot expects the big screen will make Remington Park a “multifaceted destination,” he told NewsOK. “Building the screen on the track’s infield presents numerous opportunities to host events unrelated to horse racing, ultimately, expanding our economic impact within the city and our great state.”

At 47-feet tall and 60-feet wide, the main Daktronics-manufactured screen forms the largest video board at any North American racetrack, stated NewsOK. A second, smaller screen at equal width and 17 feet in height connects to the larger one.

The tribe’s next wager on success might come from another Chickasaw tribal subsidiary, Global Gaming LSP’s purchase of Remington Park’s sister facility, Lone Star Park located in Grand Prairie, Texas, in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area, according to Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby’s State of the Nation Address on October 2, 2010. The recently extended sales option expires at the end of July, stated the AP on March 2, 2011.