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Court dismisses case involving Choctaws, Kentucky horsemen

By Murray Evens
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 10-07

A federal judge has dismissed a case involving a dispute between a company owned by an American Indian tribe and a Kentucky horsemen’s group over simulcast signals from the track that hosts the Kentucky Derby.

In a ruling issued during late October, U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson III upheld the request by Choctaw Racing Services – a company based in Durant and owned by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma – to dismiss the suit which it filed in early May against the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

In the week before the Kentucky Derby, the Choctaw group sued in federal court in Kentucky after the Kentucky HBPA said it would exercise its right under federal law to prevent a simulcast signal being sent from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., to an out-of-state location.

Choctaw Racing Services provides signals to 10 tribal-owned casinos in Oklahoma and one in Wisconsin, in the Green Bay area. Two days before Street Sense won the 133rd Kentucky Derby, Simpson denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have forced the Kentucky HBPA to allow the Choctaw group to receive the Churchill Downs signal.

The Kentucky Derby is usually a profitable event for racetracks that simulcast the event.

The Kentucky HBPA’s actions did not affect the four racetracks in Oklahoma – Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Fair Meadows in Tulsa and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore. Under state law, the tracks are required to split a portion of simulcast fees with state horsemen’s groups.

The Kentucky HBPA’s executive director, Marty Maline, said at the time that the group took the action because Oklahoma tribal casinos no longer compensate Oklahoma horsemen for bets on simulcast races that are made at the tribal casinos, which compete with Oklahoma’s racetracks.

In the lawsuit, Choctaw Racing Services disputed that claim, saying it paid the Oklahoma HBPA $5,000 each month from January 2002 through April 2007 and that from January 2001 through April 2007, it has paid almost $3 million to three Oklahoma horsemen’s groups.

The Kentucky HBPA filed for dismissal of the suit soon after Simpson’s initial ruling. In a court filing on Aug. 2, Charles Pritchett Jr., a Louisville attorney representing the Choctaw group, said the two parties had met, along with the Oklahoma HBPA and officials from Remington Park, Oklahoma’s largest track, in an attempt to resolve their differences.

During those discussions, the Kentucky HBPA offered a settlement demand that the Choctaw group “cannot accept as it would essentially would eliminate Plaintiff’s already-thin profit margins,” according to the filing. No settlement was reached. The Choctaw group said in the filing it would simply forego simulcasting races from Churchill Downs.

The Choctaw group then asked to dismiss the suit, but the Kentucky HBPA protested and asked to be able to file a counterclaim for declaratory judgment.

Simpson denied the Kentucky HBPA’s request, calling it “an attempt at closing the barn door after the horses are out, so to speak” and saying the group “has no live controversy upon which to premise jurisdiction.” He said the control the Kentucky HBPA wielded over the Choctaw group was “event-specific.”

The 10 affected casinos in Oklahoma are operated by four different tribes and are located in Durant, Pocola, McAlester, Idabel, Ada, Goldsby, Newcastle, Thackerville, Lawton and Miami.
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