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A subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation unveiled its multimillion dollar refurbishment of Remington Park on Thursday, a day before the start of the track's quarter horse meet, including an infield video board with what track officials describe as the largest at any American racetrack with a casino.
When Remington Park opened in 1988, it was considered a crown jewel among U.S. horse-racing tracks, but it fell into disrepair before Global Gaming RP LLC, a subsidiary of the Oklahoma-based American Indian tribe, 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 gaming arm now 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 executive director of the state racing commission.
"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 48.3 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 for 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. We've been working for months on programming and content and how to maximize its use."
As recently as this week, crews were pulling out television sets that dated to the track's opening, replacing them with large flat-screen models. 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, but Global Gaming's initial concern was bringing the physical plant up to what the company deems an acceptable level.
Now, he said, "we're not talking about worrying about things that leak or physical appearances. Going into 2012, we're more into what I call the ongoing fine-tuning process. What new amenities will help customers?"
He said another tribal subsidiary, Global Gaming LSP, is continuing in its efforts to gain a racing license in Texas so that it can complete the purchase of Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Elliott said he hopes that process to be complete by the end of the year.