Chickasaw Nation pours millions into Remington Park

By Murray Evans
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) March 2011

A subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation unveiled its multimillion-dollar refurbishment of Remington Park recently, including an infield video board touted as the largest at any American racetrack with a casino.

Remington Park opened in 1988 and was considered a crown jewel among U.S. horse tracks, but it fell into disrepair before Global Gaming RP LLC bought it 14 months ago. When the company applied for a racing license, it promised the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission it would spend $12 million on refurbishment.

Global Gaming CEO John Elliott said the Chickasaw Nation’s gambling arm has spent more than $15 million on Remington Park since buying it in January 2010 from bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp. for $80.25 million.

“We’ve approached it as an entertainment facility,” Elliott told The Associated Press. “The more amenities, the more entertainment you’ve got for people, the more likely you are to get them out here.”

State regulators and local horsemen had high hopes for Remington Park and its casino under Global Gaming’s ownership because of the Ada-based tribe’s local roots and its success in operating casinos elsewhere in Oklahoma.

Those expectations have been exceeded, said Constantin Rieger, the commission’s executive director.

“I have to say, as a regulator, everything they told us they were going to do has already happened at warp speed,” Rieger said. “They are continuing to upgrade the facility, to make it as aesthetically pleasing to patrons as they can.”

In 2010, Remington Park set an attendance record, drawing 1,756,616 fans. Total wagering on thoroughbred racing at the track last year was $54,179,243, a jump of 48 percent compared to 2009.

It’s no secret the racing industry is struggling in many parts of the U.S. and Remington Park’s success under Global Gaming is gaining notice, Rieger said. Along with the new ownership, he credited the passage of State Question 712 in 2004, which allowed casinos at Oklahoma racetracks in an attempt to keep them on solid financial footing.

According to the American Gaming Association, Oklahoma is one of 13 states that have racetrack casinos.

“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.’ 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.”

Remington Park’s success “is an anomaly, but it’s wonderful,” Rieger said.

The new video board touts a 30-foot-tall by 60-foot-wide main screen and a 17-foot-tall by 60-foot-wide second screen, giving Remington Park more than 3,100 square feet of video display space.

Track officials say the big screen, made by Daktronics, is the largest at a North American racetrack that has a casino.

“It’s gorgeous,” said Scott Wells, the track’s general manager. “It’s going to heighten the entertainment. In today’s world, people expect a video presentation to be part of their entertainment when they go to a sporting event.”

Major renovations have started on the track’s clubhouse level and on the ground floor, the current concession area is being transformed into a Mexican food eatery.

Elliott said plans still remain to build a hotel at the track within a few years.

He said another tribal subsidiary, Global Gaming LSP, is continuing efforts to gain a racing license in Texas so that it can complete the purchase of Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. Elliott said he hopes process is done by the end of the year.